This Week in Behavioral #5

Sometimes behavioral economics is about proving your parents wrong. For example, they probably said "never mix money and friends' and were totally wrong. Sometimes though behavioral economics is just using science to provide things your parents have been telling you for years. Frank explores.

Example 1: Get some fricking sleep!

It's an obvious thing that we all know but ignore in practice — Sleep is really good for us. This op-ed from (behavioral econ legend) Sendhil Mullainathan lays out some crazy stats on just how little sleep we're all getting.

  • One in twenty five people admit to falling asleep _while driving _at least once a month!
  • Close to one in three fall asleep at work. (Seriously, how many people must have George Costanza's under-the-desk bed?)

Sendhil talks about a few studies that try to measure some costs of missing sleep. One of the more recent and super interesting finds:

Sleeping makes you learn better.

Or more precisely, sleeping right after learning something stores it better in your memory.

A group of neuroscientists in Brazil contemplated an obvious conclusion from their looking-inside-brains research — humans retain information better if they sleep right afterwards.

They took a group of middle schoolers, taught them a new module in school, and then had half of them randomly nap right afterwards.

Look at the figure below. The dark bars are how well the napping kids did on a follow-up test one day later (first set of bars), two days later (second set), and five days later (last set). Without sleep, the kids can seemingly echo the material a day later. But that falls off dramatically over even a short period of time. Only the kids who took a nap retain what they learned; in fact, there's no discernible fall off for that group!

Easy take-aways — try to make your kids nap after school, and swap out Game of Thrones for a history book right before bed…. And maybe ask your boss if you can take a nap right after a big meeting. It's worth a shot.

Example 2: Get some fricking sleep!

Another, um, slightly less cheery paper came out in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics this month.

The paper shows that sleep deprivation caused by daylight savings time switches makes us worse drivers.

In the work week following the switch, he estimates over 300 deaths occur due to the sleepy, terrible driving that's going on.

The point of the paper is not necessarily to be an anti-daylight savings policy speech (lousy farmers) but rather to show how much sleep matters for simple things like driving. It's surprising that losing one hour of sleep over the weekend can persist in our behavior six days later. That really tilts the cost-benefit calculation.

Also, gives you good evidence to ask your boss if you can stay home after we "spring forward"? There are some thing's Frank can't do but, hey, it's worth a shot :)

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Frank - Luke Coffman

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