Resistance to new ideas in science: Part 1: sleep science

Via Mike the Mad Biologist, there’s a mini-paradigm shift in sleep science. Apparently, an unbroken ~8 hours of sleep is NOT the ideal; it’s better to have two four-hour chunks separated by an hour or two. Sleep specialists, along with the general public, are resistant to this idea, though:

Wehr’s and Ekirch’s results are becoming more and more widely known, and psychiatrists and sleep specialists are beginning to implement them. However, the behavioral paradigm shift has been slow to take hold. According to a recent article in Psychiatric TimesĀ  by Walter Brown, a psychiatrist at Brown Medical School, “Working against the clinical application of [Wehr’s and Erkich’s] findings is the extent to which they fly in the face of current thinking. The general public seems to regard 7 to 8 hours of unbroken sleep as a birthright; anything less means that something is awry. Sleep specialists share this assumption.”

If there’s resistance on something that in many ways people are less invested in than fat=bad/fat people should lose weight, all the more reason to expect resistance to the idea of Health At Every Size.

Interestingly, there’s another parallel with HAES: self-acceptance helps patients.

Clinical psychiatrists are finding that if they can make their insomnia patients stop seeing their sleep as problematic, their condition becomes more tolerable. “If they perceive interrupted sleep as normal, they experience less distress when they wake at night, and fall back to sleep more easily.”

Now, as this article illustrates, given enough evidence the paradigm shift does eventually happen. [I’m using “paradigm shift” loosely here, to basically mean anything where scientists thought they knew something, and later find that they were mistaken.] Science is not perfect but it does have its advantages. But some paradigm shifts take a lot longer than others. The right questions have to be asked, for one thing. To read more about the importance of asking the right questions, you should read Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. (Actually, you should do that anyway.) I will talk more about why in my next post, Part 2.

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