Things That Will Probably Kill You, Vol. 1


Blame Thomas Edison (or Heinrich Göbel if you must split hairs). Ever since the invention of the lightbulb, humans have stopped spending the hours after sunset huddled in bed, terrified of marauders and werewolves and bad night air. Instead we’ve been tripping the artificial light fantastic – staying late at work, going out to movie theaters, nightclubs, and bars, and obsessively checking Facebook. As a result, the average night’s sleep for Westerners has gone from roughly nine hours to seven over the past hundred years.

And that’s why you’re going to die, at least according to a series of studies recently published in academic journal Sleep. The combined studies were culled from Europe, Asia, and North America and monitored more than one-and-a-half million subjects. Turns out sleeping less than six hours a night increases your chance of premature death by 12 percent.

No problem, you say? You’ll just chug half a bottle of Nyquil and up the shut-eye quotient? Well, that’ll kill you just as dead, according to some more science. The body’s natural response to the flow of night and day – the circadian rhythm – has been evolutionarily been fine-tuned over millions of years. When the sun goes down and the body stops receiving external light, it starts producing melatonin (a sleep-inducing chemical), turns off responses to stress, and performs other healing tasks.

One of the more prominent links to poor sleep habits is constant exposure to blue LEDs. You know, laptops, TVs, iPads; those little gadgets grafted onto your skin throughout the day. Traitors! I always knew that my computer would kill me one day – I just hoped it would be in an epic, 2001-style outer-space-showdown, not a coward’s attack while I’m sleepy and defenseless.

Image: Alyssa L. Miller

Mallory Ortberg

Mallory resides in San Francisco, California. You can catch her weekly Sex By Numbers column.