Modern (Western?) Mistakes
April 6, 2011 5:46 AM   Subscribe

7 Basic Things You Won't Believe You're All Doing Wrong
posted by beisny (145 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's pretty great.
posted by empath at 5:55 AM on April 6, 2011


First published as "Do You Make These Mistakes?" in My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew, Robert Benchley (1936)

Except it was funny then. Like the simple experiment to determine that shaving does not make your beard grow faster.
posted by DU at 5:59 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry, not "Do You Make These Mistakes". I mean Mistaken Notions from the same book.
posted by DU at 6:01 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm doing it wrong.
posted by punkfloyd at 6:03 AM on April 6, 2011


I do hate those extra-tall toilets. Fuck those things.
posted by ghharr at 6:08 AM on April 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


I always thought our toilets were hold overs from our Atlantian sea giant ancestors.
posted by I Foody at 6:15 AM on April 6, 2011


Squatting may substantially increase your chance of having a stroke.
posted by biffa at 6:16 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I now have the perfect smalltalk topic for when people become curious about the stepstool in my bathroom. (Which I use to reach high things because I am wicked short, but perhaps it will become more useful soon.) I'm sure I will be the most charming conversationalist.
posted by Mizu at 6:17 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also on AskMe
posted by exogenous at 6:17 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Learning that being awake for an hour or two every night is normal behavior is incredibly relieving.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 6:18 AM on April 6, 2011 [27 favorites]


Extra-tall toilets? This is a thing?
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:20 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every time I read one of these things about how all that showering you're doing is wrong and bad for your skin I reflect on how healthy and nice smelling all the homeless people I work with are.

That said the sleep thing is neat.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 6:24 AM on April 6, 2011


Learning that being awake for an hour or two every night is normal behavior is incredibly relieving.

I usually get home from work and sleep pretty much right after dinner -- like at 6 or 7pm... then I wake up around midnight, play some starcraft or watch youtube for a couple of hours, then fall back asleep and I'll often wake up in the morning before my alarm goes off.
posted by empath at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2011


Every time I read one of these things about how all that showering you're doing is wrong and bad for your skin I reflect on how healthy and nice smelling all the homeless people I work with are.

They didn't say don't shower. They said don't scrub your skin as much, and maybe don't shower 1 or 2 days a week.
posted by empath at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, actually, our obsessive-compulsive tooth-brushing practices lead to deteriorating oral health, including increased numbers of cavities and eventual tooth loss.

Not half as much as the non-tooth-brushing practices of my grandparents, all of whom had lost all their teeth by middle age.
posted by Segundus at 6:27 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


...and there's no need to use soap every time you shower - at least not on your whole body.
posted by beisny at 6:28 AM on April 6, 2011


Extra-tall toilets? This is a thing?

yup. my grandparents love the crap out of them because they don't have to sit down as far.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:28 AM on April 6, 2011


Extra-tall toilets? This is a thing?

Judging from the ones my parents just bought? Gah. Yes. It's awful.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:28 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every time I read one of these things about how all that showering you're doing is wrong and bad for your skin I reflect on how healthy and nice smelling all the homeless people I work with are.

We really have to go straight from a pop article that says not showering multiple times a day and maybe even skipping a day once in a while could be good for your skin's microorganisms to Whew-Homeless-People-Smell-Filter?
posted by aught at 6:29 AM on April 6, 2011 [16 favorites]


If you're getting enough fiber in your diet, your poop position isn't really going to matter much.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:34 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not half as much as the non-tooth-brushing practices of my grandparents, all of whom had lost all their teeth by middle age.

This might also have a lot to do with fluoride in municipal water supplies & toothpaste, and regular visits to the dentist by the vast majority of children. And, as the article said, regular flossing, which very few people did a couple generations ago -- actual dentists have also told me flossing's more important than brushing, if for some improbable set of circumstances you only have time to do one or the other. (And no, Firefox, I do not want to change "flossing's" to "Flossie's", thank you very much.)
posted by aught at 6:35 AM on April 6, 2011


yup. my grandparents love the crap out of them

Pun intended?
posted by schmod at 6:35 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is the actual evidence that before the industrial age, people had a "segmented sleep pattern" with a "first sleep" a midnight wakeup, then a "second sleep"?

I've seen this asserted several times, but never with any clear primary sources cited.

I find the middle of night in winter tends to be a bit dark and cold, and I'm pretty skeptical that people decided to get up and do a bit of beer-brewing as their NY Times link suggests.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:37 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


At least I'm breathing right.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 6:37 AM on April 6, 2011


heh... extra tall toilets.. my business is currently leasing space in what was once an elementary school... the toilets are about 3 inches off the ground... I didn't realize this was healthy...
posted by tomswift at 6:39 AM on April 6, 2011


The skin thing really resonates with me. My poor daughter has my oily skin and started to have break-outs when she hit puberty. My advice was to wash with an anti-bacterial soap like I was instructed 25 years ago. It wasn't until I took her to a dermatologist who put her on a topical lotion that required she used a mild soap that the pimples went away. We now only use Cetaphil or Dove on our faces and I've noticed my skin even looks better.
posted by photoslob at 6:42 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, I have minor back issues (a couple of cracked vertebrae from a few years back), and a taller toilet is much more comfortable to sit on. Not sure of how squatting would affect it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:42 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah don't use that crappy soap you get in the grocery store. We actually make our own soap, for the last 2 or 3 years now, and my skin has never been better!
posted by Mister_A at 6:43 AM on April 6, 2011


Learning that being awake for an hour or two every night is normal behavior is incredibly relieving.

I first learned that a few years ago, (something about humans being programed to wake to check on fires) and found that just accepting that I'd be awake for 40 mins to an hour - time for email or whatever - left me more relaxed and more able to slip back to sleep. I had been so used to stressing about insomnia. I sleep so much better now that I don't fight it.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:43 AM on April 6, 2011


There was quite a fuss at my workplace a few years back when faeces was repeatedly found on the floor and on the seat of the toilets. Turned out, after much investigation, that some employees, coming from a country and culture where they were used to squatting over a floor toilet, had taken to squatting on top of the toilet seat as sitting was was not natural for them. Unfortunately squatting wasn't the best for a (let's say) clean drop. It split the workplace apart - one half were horrified, the other half were trying to be accommodating. It eventually resolved itself, I can only assume because the squatters changed their habits or cleaned up after themselves a bit better. I think the squatters can feel a bit vindicated now.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 6:44 AM on April 6, 2011


Interesting, and they may have a point about some of those things, but the section on breathing is bullshit. For one thing, the reason babies rely more on their diaphragm to breathe is that their chest is more circular in cross-section and their ribs are more horizontal; as they get older the chest becomes oval and the ribs become sloped downward. This allows the ribs and intercostal muscles to take over much of the work of breathing. These muscle move the ribs upward and outward in what has been described as bucket-handle or pump-handle motion, increasing the chest diameter in all directions and increasing thoracic volume, thereby sucking air in. Also, normal ventilation does not preferentially direct air to the top of the lungs and blood to the bottom; there are actually 3 (sometimes described as 4) lung zones with different patterns of blood flow and air flow; they are best balanced in zone 3 which is the majority of lung tissue in healthy adults standing upright. Finally, all that deep-breathing stuff is not bad but we already do it normally, we just need to allow ourselves to do it more. The cough, sigh, and yawn reflexes are all maneuvers that we unconsciously do to prevent atelectasis. So they get a C on respiratory physiology. But then again, Cracked isn't Guyton so I shouldn't expect too much.

Also, you don't need eight glasses of water a day.
posted by TedW at 6:44 AM on April 6, 2011 [21 favorites]


re. TheophileEscargot's question: the notion of 'first and second sleep' is well documented in British primary sources (I can't speak to other nations' sleeping habits!)

e.g. this article, which I think is free-to-view
posted by AFII at 7:00 AM on April 6, 2011


I find the middle of night in winter tends to be a bit dark and cold,

I don't know what the primary source might be, but I do suspect folks 100+ years ago wore a lot more clothes all the time including while in bed, that they were more used to the cold than we are, and that it wasn't that big a deal to throw a couple pieces of wood or coal in the stove, since the previous evening's coals were probably still going strong under the ash. This might have also been a good way to make it more likely you'll still have good coals going to start the next morning's fire as well, based on my (admittedly long past now) experience with wood stoves.
posted by aught at 7:01 AM on April 6, 2011


What could be simpler than taking a good crap? Even babies are good at it.

Let's agree to disagree on this point.
posted by odinsdream at 7:02 AM on April 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


This might also have a lot to do with fluoride in municipal water supplies & toothpaste...

I still hear so many conflicting things about fluoride that I've almost given up. Any insight in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
posted by beisny at 7:03 AM on April 6, 2011


but the section on breathing is bullshit

Every course on stress management and meditation has mentioned belly-breathing as a key strategy, for what it's worth.

Also, I can't believe I am standing up for points made in freaking Cracked magazine, though the online incarnation is admittedly a different beast than the annoying Mad knock-off I remember from my youth.
posted by aught at 7:03 AM on April 6, 2011


I don't believe it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2011


God I'm going to start actually doing things with that hour instead of just closing my eyes and waiting and waiting and waiting.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 7:05 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


It is an OK article, but completely overlooks the issue of sitting or standing for the cleanup stage. Too bad that they don't also tell us that we should have out cats de-clawed, this could have been MetaFilter's Perfect Storm.
posted by cgk at 7:05 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: You're Doing It Wrong
posted by scblackman at 7:07 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I still hear so many conflicting things about fluoride that I've almost given up.

I feel relatively certain that adding it to water is not an Illuminati conspiracy. The tinfoil hat crowd disagrees.
posted by norm at 7:07 AM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


ocherdraco posted to Health Month a great little step-by-step on tooth care, and a lot of people were really surprised to learn that flossing comes BEFORE brushing. Although, I think that as long as you are flossing at some point during the day, you are miles ahead of most people.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:14 AM on April 6, 2011


I still hear so many conflicting things about fluoride that I've almost given up.

Anecdata: I grew up in NC where they put fluoride in the water. I moved to Oregon where they don't. Dentists and Hygienists can tell by looking at my teeth that I ain't from around here.
posted by device55 at 7:16 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks to years of martial arts training the breathing is the only (and possibly only) thing I do right.
posted by tommasz at 7:21 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Clearly, writing is among those things that I'm doing wrong.
posted by tommasz at 7:22 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I usually get home from work and sleep pretty much right after dinner -- like at 6 or 7pm... then I wake up around midnight, play some starcraft or watch youtube for a couple of hours, then fall back asleep and I'll often wake up in the morning before my alarm goes off.

That actually sounds lovely. Eat, sleep, play in the quiet hours, sleep some more, rise early. I'd try it in a heartbeat if I didn't have kids to tend to in the evenings.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:23 AM on April 6, 2011


I'd try it in a heartbeat if I didn't have kids to tend to in the evenings.

Gin. Time honored parenting solution of our forefathers.
posted by Forktine at 7:25 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Everybody Poops...Incorrectly.
posted by spicynuts at 7:26 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still hear so many conflicting things about fluoride that I've almost given up.



I always feel the compelled to plug fluoridation. I had a lot of cavities as a little kid, until we moved to a small town where the municipal well water was naturally fluoridated. In addition, we did a monthly fluoride mouth rinse in 7th grade. Even though we moved away at the end of highschool, I haven't had a cavity in the subsequent 35 years (knock on wood).
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:35 AM on April 6, 2011


So far the "Thing I've Been Doing Wrong All My Life" that's been most dumbfounding was peeling a banana.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:39 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


8. Worrying about doing things all wrong.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:44 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


AFII: Thanks for the "segmented sleep" link. But I've had a look at the references, and I still don't find it at all convincing.

I can't speak for the non-English references, but for the English references he says:
For the term "first sleep," I have discovered sixty-three references within a total of fifty-eight different sources from the period 1300–1800. See below in the text for examples. "First nap" appears in Colley Cibber, The Lady's Last Stake: or, The Wife's Resentment (London, 1708), 48; Tobias George Smollett, The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, 2 vols. (London, 1753), 1: 73; Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, Ian Jack, ed. (Oxford, 1981), 97.
Wuthering Heights is easily available on Project Gutenberg, the reference to "first nap" is:
About the middle of the night, I was wakened from my first nap by Mrs. Linton gliding into my chamber, taking a seat on my bedside, and pulling me by the hair to rouse me.

'I cannot rest, Ellen,' she said, by way of apology. 'And I want some living creature to keep me company in my happiness!
The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom has this reference:
He did not neglect the rendezvous, but, presenting himself at the appointed time, which was midnight, made the signal they had agreed upon, and was immediately admitted by Wilhelmina, who waited for hire with a lover's impatience. Fathom was not deficient in those expressions of rapture that are current on those occasions; but, on the contrary, became so loud in the transports of self-congratulation, that his voice reached the ears of the vigilant stepmother, who wakening the jeweller from his first nap, gave him to understand that some person was certainly in close conversation with his daughter; and exhorted him to rise forthwith, and vindicate the honour of his family.

The German, who was naturally of a phlegmatic habit, and never went to bed without a full dose of the creature, which added to his constitutional drowsiness, gave no ear to his wife's intimation, until she had repeated it thrice, and used other means to rouse him from the arms of slumber.
First, sixty-three references in 500 years doesn't seem that many.

Second, it's not at all clear that to me that these references are to normal sleeping patterns. The characters in these books can be much more melodramatic than real life people. The Wuthering Heights example seems to involve one person who is suffering insomnia, and another who is woken up by having her hair yanked. The Count Fathom character is woken up by loud noises and only with great difficulty.

I say: "segmented sleep" is bullshit. Like today, people thought the normal case was to sleep all night; but like today, insomniacs and oddballs would wake up and wander around.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:53 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, if I naturally sleep solidly through the night (and morning) and don't wake up, am I doing it wrong?

Additionally, I do find it a bit hilarious that they are citing British dentists re: brushing.
posted by maryr at 7:55 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find all the talk about 'our bodies weren't designed for this' terribly annoying. We were roughly shaped out of chaotic variation to be able to survive long enough to procreate, and die soon after. Evolution isn't some painstaking piece of precision engineering, and we will not regain grace by going back to a natural state. Do we really think survival pressure has acted with sufficient strength to prevent haemorroids, or varicose veins, or a painful back? These are design faults which are natural, and no better for being so. They can be exacerbated or alleviated by modern life, according to the ingenuity with which we attempt to solve them.
posted by Marlinspike at 8:04 AM on April 6, 2011 [52 favorites]


I blame my parents for misinforming me when I was young....now to begin all over again.
posted by Postroad at 8:08 AM on April 6, 2011


Shoes first, then pants.
posted by DaddyNewt at 8:15 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have a very vague memory of reading something by a modern Nigerian novelist — Arrow of God, maybe? I don't remember; it was ages ago — where segmented sleep was a minor plot point. There was some character who was in the habit of waking up in the middle of the night and hanging out for a while. I guess it wound up being relevant to the plot. Maybe she saw/heard something crucial while she was awake?

But what really struck me, and stuck with me more than the plot point, was the author's description of her sleep pattern itself. He made it sound like a pleasant habit rather than an affliction, and that pretty much Blew My Mind, since I was used to stressing the fuck out over insomnia.

It wasn't presented as standard (the implication seemed to be "some people do this, but not everyone"), but I felt like it was being presented as a mild idiosyncrasy, around the same order of magnitude as "likes to wake up early" or "enjoys an afternoon nap" or whatever. Like, "So-and-so loved to sit outside and enjoy the moonlight for a while around midnight — you know how some people are into that" rather than "So-and-so had crappy insomnia and she was out looking at the moon to distract herself from the crappy crap crappitude of it all."

Dammit, now I'm gonna make myself crazy trying to think of what book that was.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:18 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd try it in a heartbeat if I didn't have kids to tend to in the evenings.

Gin. Time honored parenting solution of our forefathers.


Yeah, but what do I give the kids to drink?
posted by binturong at 8:32 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


but the section on breathing is bullshit

Every course on stress management and meditation has mentioned belly-breathing as a key strategy, for what it's worth.


Every choir director or voice teacher I've worked with begins a new season of practice with reinforcement of belly breathing, too. It's something I've heard for so many years, that belly breathing is the "better" way to breathe, that I'm going to stick with that knowledge. I haven't suffocated yet!

And I hate tall toilets, too. It really does make things happen more easily when I can put some weight on my legs rather than sitting like on a chair.
posted by hippybear at 8:57 AM on April 6, 2011


Add me to the chorus of people who detest tall toilets. There is a tiny toilet in our children's library- it's only slightly taller than my son's potty chair, and I swear, I want to replace our toilet with that tiny model. I'm 5'6", my husband is 6'1", and if I could get him to go for it, I'd have that knee-jackknifing thing in a heartbeat.
posted by Leta at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2011


There's a variety of spider in West Virginia that's about 2 inches around when they're sitting there splayed-out, and one of their unfortunate habits is hanging out on the underside of the boxed bench seat of my three-holer outhouse waiting for something interesting to come along. The most interesting thing, it seems, is new landscape, and when you plant your backside on the paisley print 1970s toilet seat on, say, the Mama Bear seat (my three-holer is stepped for comfort for the whole family), they immediately send out a scouting party to see what's going on.

If you're possessed of perfect Zen composure and can find the tao in having six 2 inch spiders walking around on your ass, with their long, whiskery legs delicately playing the fibers of your butt and ball hair like a gestalt human harpsichord, you'll do fine. They don't bite, and eventually get bored and go back to the underside of the bench to sulk. Occasionally, though, you'll get a frisky one who'll decide to check out the north face, and will dart up through your legs and get into your shirt. Thus far, I have yet to meet anyone who's sufficiently calm and present enough to sit through that, and most of us who've had that experience have also forgotten that the bottom two steps rotted off the privy in the mid-nineties (it's on my list) and therefore lurched for the door, shrieking and shuffling with manacles of tangled jeans and skivvies, and then plunged down the steep hillside.

In the interests of exploring healthy new modes of expression, I decided that, being a bear, I should be able to use the woods as the colorful aphorisms indicate, and that squatting is biologically preferred. There are three thousand acres of untouched woods behind my place, so it should be perfect, right? The only thing is—I can't manage to pull it off. Yoga-like squatting is all well and good when you've got gazelle-like limbs that fold up like an old carpenters' ruler, but when you've got short, muscular legs, you end up with an altogether more unsteady collection of angles, a situation that isn't helped by the concentration involved in the process of finding relief.

After a long series of falls, misfires, and other humiliations, I gave it up, built myself a humanure toilet, and installed a door on the never-finished bathroom of my cabin, and have been enjoying my morning reading time in the woods quite a bit more. It makes me wonder what the hell I'll do if I ever want to take distant friends up on their invitations and travel to Vietnam and other squat-oriented destinations. How do Sumo wrestlers manage it? Thus far, my internet searches on that subject have only alerted me to a whole new genre of horrifying porn that I'd have otherwise never heard of.
posted by sonascope at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2011 [66 favorites]


So far the "Thing I've Been Doing Wrong All My Life" that's been most dumbfounding was peeling a banana.

I've been seeing these references to The Proper Way to Peel a Banana for a while now, and I'm really surprised that that is supposed to be it, and that it seems to have resolved some sort of long-standing banana-peeling challenge for so many people. Because if you wait for the banana to be properly ripe, as one ought to do, it's simply not necessary. With a ripe banana, the stem stays with the bunch when you detach it, and the banana comes away with a little hole at the top where the stem used to be, and you peel it from that. If you don't get the little hole, you shouldn't be eating the banana anyway. Of course I realise you have to do what you can when it comes to those nasty mushy pale-tasting black magic bananas they try to stick you with when you're in a cold country. But I live in The Tropics with banana plants in my yard, and I open my bananas from the top, like people. (I mean the idea that we should be taking advice from monkeys on the proper way to eat anything - come on.)
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:01 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


sonascope, I am not really freaked out by spiders or outhouses, and that gave me the willies. I'm glad you have a composting toilet now, but if I couldn't squat, I'd cut the bottom out of a 5 gallon pail and put a toilet seat on the top long before I'd use a spider infested outhouse. Dear God.
posted by Leta at 9:05 AM on April 6, 2011


I think the value of information like this, and the way I think it should be presented, is that it challenges our assumptions -- many of which are shaped by commerce -- about what are the "correct" ways to do things. I think many of us live in a perpetual state of insecurity/defensiveness because so many of our natural preferences run afoul of conventional wisdom. So it's good to have some of our non-standard inclinations validated. Of course, this article's "UR DOIN IT WRONG" angle isn't very helpful, but much of this information is.
posted by Pants McCracky at 9:07 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've been seeing these references to The Proper Way to Peel a Banana for a while now, and I'm really surprised that that is supposed to be it, and that it seems to have resolved some sort of long-standing banana-peeling challenge for so many people.

Yeah, it's surprising to find that this is something people are actually thinking about and working on. Like Russell Brand, this seems like the answer to a question no one was asking.
posted by Pants McCracky at 9:11 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


There was quite a fuss at my workplace a few years back when faeces was repeatedly found on the floor and on the seat of the toilets

You're pooing it wrong?
posted by Tavern at 9:12 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Leta > ...I'd cut the bottom out of a 5 gallon pail and put a toilet seat on the top long before I'd use a spider infested outhouse. Dear God.

At my family's cabins in Canada, we have an outhouse (used to be two) and I have to say... what outhouse isn't infested with spiders?

I'm feeling a little nostalgic about our old three-holer (papa-, mama-, and baby bear holes, too!) but, not that nostalgic.
posted by jillithd at 9:15 AM on April 6, 2011


I'd like to see more information on whether brushing before or after breakfast is better. Given my personal experience with British dentists (my view doesn't come just from LOLBRITISHTEETH), I am less inclined to trust them than the ADA, which doesn't seem to have a position on the matter, other than that brushing twice a day is best. A review from 2005 says:
Study of the literature gives no clear evidence as to the optimal time-point of tooth brushing (before or after meals). However, in order to eliminate food impaction and to shorten the duration of sucrose impact by tooth cleaning after meals seems to be recommendable. Although—with our current knowledge of potential harm due to brushing of erosively altered and softened tooth surfaces—giving advice on a more individual basis is recommended for patients suffering from erosion.
"Giving advice on a more individual basis" seems sensible. I don't usually have acidic foods at breakfast and I have strong enamel, so maybe brushing after is still best.

Although I do like the British Dental Health Foundation's recommendation to "finish a meal with cheese or milk to help neutralise any acids." Cheese after every meal for dental health? Don't mind if I do!
posted by grouse at 9:19 AM on April 6, 2011


Man, I hate those tall toilets, especially when the morons who stand at them stare at me as I do my business.
posted by zippy at 9:25 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


My dentist is British. But my hygienist is from California. She's the best hygienist on the planet, I'm fairly sure. She's married to the dentist. Therefore, a dentist being British isn't a deal-breaker. (a good hygienist won't work for a lousy dentist).
posted by Goofyy at 9:25 AM on April 6, 2011


I had a roommate who got used to squatting in India so he installed a toilet seat that extended outward on each side so you could squat and shit. It's hard to argue with human intestinal design. Toilets didn't evolve, nor did God create one on the sixth day.
posted by kozad at 9:35 AM on April 6, 2011


Funny to read the riff on first and second sleep, and the wondering what to do with the kids--because it is the experience of living with a newborn/infant that makes a normal period of middle-of-the-night waking make *perfect* sense to me.

Very tiny people are incapable of sleeping through the night . It's hard to imagine how humankind has lasted this long if the struggles of dealing with babies in the middle of the night have always been awful, as awful as they seem to be for us western people with electric lights and alarm clocks and all that stuff. But if all the grown ups hit the sack when the sun goes down, too, and then it's not a big deal to be up for a period or two until the sun comes up....dang, does that make a lot of sense for dealing with babies.
posted by Sublimity at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Efficiency is overrated.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


With a ripe banana, the stem stays with the bunch when you detach it, and the banana comes away with a little hole at the top where the stem used to be, and you peel it from that

Really? So just stick your dirty, giant sausage fingers into the little hole at the top, mushing down whatever banana is at the top in order to stick enough of you finger inside to grab both sides of the peel to pull it? That's really your solution? Because if you open it the other way, you aren't limited by ripeness, you don't have to stick your dirty fingers into your food you're about to eat.

Like Russell Brand, this seems like the answer to a question no one was asking.

Your inherent fear of learning something new and doing something differently and potentially better is showing. But way to fight the tide of evolution by exemplifying the antithesis of human ingenuity.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:45 AM on April 6, 2011


To TheophileEscargot: Another link on segmented sleep.

Have there been anything refuting the idea? It doesn't seem to be a majorly prevalent theory, but it doesn't seem to have been disputed, either.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:55 AM on April 6, 2011


Like Russell Brand, this seems like the answer to a question no one was asking.

What is the answer to the question no one was asking?
posted by zippy at 9:55 AM on April 6, 2011


I love Cracked.com but I'm always sad when they miss really big obvious things in their lists, like, when feeding a someone to flesh-eating beetles, put the body in the pit first, then dump the beetles on top of it, otherwise you end up crushing a bunch of them, and that can get expensive quick.

Or when summoning a demon; you stand outside the octogram, and the demon goes inside of it, otherwise it is free to run around while you are trapped and not the other way around. I mean, it's a rookie mistake you only make once, but seriously.
posted by quin at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2011 [21 favorites]


Because if you open it the other way, you aren't limited by ripeness, you don't have to stick your dirty fingers into your food you're about to eat.

Or you could wash your hands first.
posted by John Cohen at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is the answer to the question no one was asking?

$20, same as in town.
posted by norm at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Relevant:
Most medical research tries to explain the causes of an individual’s disease and seeks therapies to cure or relieve deleterious conditions. These efforts are traditionally based on consideration of proximate issues, the straightforward study of the body’s anatomic and physiological mechanisms as they currently exist. In contrast, Darwinian medicine asks why the body is designed in a way that makes us all vulnerable to problems like cancer, atherosclerosis, depression and choking, thus offering a broader con-text in which to conduct research.

The evolutionary explanations for the body’s flaws fall into surprisingly few categories. First, some discomforting conditions, such as pain, fever, cough, vomiting and anxiety, are actually neither diseases nor design defects but rather are evolved defenses. Second, conflicts with other organisms—E. coli or crocodiles, for instance—are a fact of life. Third, some circumstances, such as the ready availability of dietary fats, are so recent that natural selection has not yet had a chance to deal with them. Fourth, the body may fall victim to trade-offs between a trait’s benefits and its costs; a textbook example is the sickle cell gene, which also protects against malaria. Finally, the process of natural selection is constrained in ways that leave us with suboptimal design features, as in the case of the mammalian eye.
posted by AceRock at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd try it in a heartbeat if I didn't have kids to tend to in the evenings.

Gin. Time honored parenting solution of our forefathers.

Yeah, but what do I give the kids to drink?


Children's Benadryl. Time honored parenting solution of the modern age.
posted by zachlipton at 10:04 AM on April 6, 2011


what do I give the kids to drink?

You're doing it wrong.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really? So just stick your dirty, giant sausage fingers into the little hole at the top, mushing down whatever banana is at the top in order to stick enough of you finger inside to grab both sides of the peel to pull it? That's really your solution?

OK, I take it back: You were indeed doing it wrong before. I mean I really can't imagine a way you would plausibly go about doing this that would mush down the banana itself, even accidentally - but no, you don't stick your fingers inside the banana! You just... pull the skin away. With sort of the same fingershape you might use to turn the pages of a book. You don't worry about your dirty sausage fingers mushing those down surely?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2011


Squatting may substantially increase your chance of having a stroke.

it was during adolescence that i took to having a stroke while pooping.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:42 AM on April 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


Okay, but do you put your shoes on like this: sock, other foot sock, shoe, other foot shoe (like normal people) or sock, shoe, other foot sock, shoe?
posted by misha at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2011


what are socks?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:45 AM on April 6, 2011


They're like condoms for your toes.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:48 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


A sock and a sock and a shoe and a shoe!
posted by hippybear at 10:49 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Mom, is that you?
posted by victors at 10:52 AM on April 6, 2011


2 inch spiders walking around on your ass

NO NO NO no no OH HELLS NO yeah NO
posted by everichon at 11:09 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Holmes, why do you tuck your knees under your chin when you poop?"

"It's alimentary, Watson."
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:14 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


First, sixty-three references in 500 years doesn't seem that many.

Second, it's not at all clear that to me that these references are to normal sleeping patterns. The characters in these books can be much more melodramatic than real life people. The Wuthering Heights example seems to involve one person who is suffering insomnia, and another who is woken up by having her hair yanked. The Count Fathom character is woken up by loud noises and only with great difficulty.


Reread that Count Fathom passage. The guy couldn't wake up because he was drunk. Which says nothing about normal sleep patterns. (But is hilarious).

And there are far too many matter-of-fact descriptions in books written prior to the 20th century of things we would find violent today, like hair-pulling or boxing ears, or slapping (or spanking, or kicking) to accept them as melodramatic. It's only recently that we've stopped finding this behavior normal or acceptable.

Also, until the 19th century, literacy was not the norm, so there weren't as many books written.
posted by emjaybee at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2011


Huh. Apparently, I'm not doing anything wrong.

Okay, but do you put your shoes on like this: sock, other foot sock, shoe, other foot shoe (like normal people) or sock, shoe, other foot sock, shoe?

Both. Every new seat you take in a room exposes you to a new perception.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:28 AM on April 6, 2011


Breathing with your diaphragm is good for you, and while you don't need at least 8 glasses of water each day, you will generally feel much better if you drink them.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:31 AM on April 6, 2011


Okay, but do you put your shoes on like this: sock, other foot sock, shoe, other foot shoe (like normal people) or sock, shoe, other foot sock, shoe?

Sadly, it's: shoe, shoe, shoes off, sock, sock, shoe, shoe, shoes off, trousers, shoe, shoe.
posted by Grangousier at 11:33 AM on April 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


#8: Never put salt in your eyes
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 11:34 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


> After a long series of falls, misfires, and other humiliations...

The best way I have found to do it "bear style" is to plant your lower back against a tree.

This allows you to simulate a sitting position and still get the clearance you need to keep your pants, underwear and shoes out of the drop zone.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:40 AM on April 6, 2011


And what everichon said.

Times nine hundred.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:42 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The best way I have found to do it "bear style" is to plant your lower back against a tree.

I've also found that facing the tree and holding onto it with one or both hands while squatting gives you the chance to move your evacuation hole a bit further away backwards from your feet/pants, helps with stability while squatting, and makes it easier to get back up standing without falling.

Works best with tree trunks of small diameter.
posted by hippybear at 11:46 AM on April 6, 2011


... Always put salt in your eyes.
posted by MissSquare at 11:46 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I get the squatting. I have a low toilet that really works for me. But, that does not address the 45 minutes of reading. Am I doing that right?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:51 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sonascope I am near tears trying to hold in my laughter. And horror.

The showering thing is interesting - I knew it was good to skip occasionally to avoid drying out skin, but I didn't really think it had health benefit beyond that.

I've been hearing more and more about these kind of "we do it like this, but it should actually be like that" (shampoo is another one that comes to mind). I wonder if eventually it's going to lead to a change in what's considered "normal".
posted by missix at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2011


Apocryphon: thanks for that link on segmented sleep.

All these links seem to come back to the same guy, Roger Ekirch. He wrote the NT Times article mentioned on Cracked, and the article AFII linked to. He does seem to be an actual historian at an accredited institution (Virginia Tech), which gives him some credibility.

But even so, the evidence that he actually gives in that article really seems pretty tenuous to me, as I said. The three citations that I actually looked up all seemed to me to refer to descriptions of abnormal sleeping. As well as "Wuthering Heights" and "The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom" he refers to "The Canterbury Tales", but that seems to be someone suffering from indigestion and alcoholic fumes in the brain ("Ful were hir hedes of fumositee").

So, I still think he's wrong. I've read quite a few books written from the Nineteenth century and earlier, I'm pretty sure I would have noticed if their sleeping patterns were so different from our own. I think he's cherry-picking some examples of insomniacs and people with odd habits, and assuming they're the norm.

You could easily write similar things today. "I had my first nap until the guy in the flat above me stomped home at midnight after the pub closed, when I went out for a cigarette. I had my second sleep until the clubbers in Flat 17 came home at 3AM and put on some chillout music, when I watched a bit of the cricket."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:55 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just switched to an exercise ball for sitting at the 'puter. Lower back problems disappeared the same day I switched. Sometimes I go back to the chair and the back starts tightening up...the ball rules even if Casey made them infamous.
posted by telstar at 1:03 PM on April 6, 2011


the evidence that he actually gives in that article really seems pretty tenuous to me

Well, he's written a whole book about it. The book supposedly contains 500 references to instances of segmented sleep. That review also mentions Thomas Wehr's study in the 90s (NYTimes link) that supported the notion.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:24 PM on April 6, 2011


most of us who've had that experience have also forgotten that the bottom two steps rotted off the privy in the mid-nineties (it's on my list) and therefore lurched for the door, shrieking and shuffling with manacles of tangled jeans and skivvies, and then plunged down the steep hillside

This is an elevator pitch for YouTube, right?
posted by dhartung at 1:25 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


mrgrimm: The Thomas Wehr study is interesting:
Every night for four weeks the men came to the laboratory, where they spent 14 hours in windowless dark rooms, relaxing and sleeping as much as possible. Various hormone levels, temperature, brain waves and other functions were measured at regular intervals throughout the night. Later, similar measurements were made when the men came into the clinic to sleep for the more traditional seven to eight hours a night.

The researchers discovered a number of intriguing things about how ancestral humans may have spent their dark winter nights. For one thing, as the study volunteers adjusted to their artificial circumstances, their sleep patterns relaxed into distinct phases. The men slept only about an hour more than normal, but the slumber was spread over about a 12-hour period. They slept for about four to five hours early on, and another four to five hours or so toward morning, the two sleep bouts separated by several hours of quiet, distinctly nonanxious wakefulness in the middle of the night. The early evening sleep was primarily deep, slow-wave sleep and the morning episode consisted largely of REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep characterized by vivid dreams. The wakeful period, brain wave measurements indicated, resembled a state of meditation.
But even that doesn't seem terribly conclusive, and raises a lot of questions. It's a single experiment: has anyone ever replicated it? Does it reflect realistic natural circumstances? Was it cold like a real winter, were there candles and fires like a real human settlement? Did they have things to do and people to talk to, in which case they might want to use the evening period when it's still relatively warm and some haven't yet dropped off to sleep? If the period of wakefulness is a state of meditation, how come Roger Ekirch has people getting up and doing practical activities?

From the ones I investigated, I'm pretty dubious about Roger Ekrich's "500 references" over 500 years. Looks to me like he's just done a Find on "first sleep", "first nap", "primo sonno", "primo sono" etc. on a bunch of texts and counted them up as support. The reference in "The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom" is particularly absurd. It's a farce, literally. One man is awake because he's having a midnight rendezvous with his lover. His lover is also awake. Her mother hears him talking loudly, wakes up, then forces the father awake with great difficulty. This isn't a state of natural meditation long-lost to us moderns, it's a standard comedy scene that we still see in every sit-com.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:52 PM on April 6, 2011


The researchers discovered a number of intriguing things about how ancestral humans may have spent their dark winter nights.

Makes me wonder what they mean here by "ancestral humans". Go back a certain distance, and we were all living pretty much between the tropics. Not much happening there as far as dark winter nights go.
posted by hippybear at 3:02 PM on April 6, 2011


> If you're possessed of perfect Zen composure and can find the tao in having six 2 inch spiders walking around on your ass, with their long, whiskery legs delicately playing the fibers of your butt and ball hair like a gestalt human harpsichord, you'll do fine. They don't bite, and eventually get bored and go back to the underside of the bench to sulk. Occasionally, though, you'll get a frisky one who'll decide to check out the north face, and will dart up through your legs and get into your shirt.

This, more than threats of hemorrhoids or alimentary discomfort would motivate me to explore alternate methods of lining up for a shot on goal, so to speak.

Stilts come to mind. Stilts with the legs in buckets of battery acid.

Can you squat on stilts?
posted by mmrtnt at 3:13 PM on April 6, 2011


Kill Danny.
posted by cereselle at 3:13 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It isn't as important as breathing and some of the other items on the list, but I found out recently that I had been tying my shoes wrong for the past few decades. Who knew that a granny knot causing my shoe laces to come untied?
posted by autopilot at 3:30 PM on April 6, 2011


'Taking life advice from Cracked.com' should be on the list, though I do read all their articles.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:30 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never had all that much trouble opening bananas from the stem, but I just tried the squeeze-the-end and open it from the bottom "monkey"-method, and it does work nicely.
posted by JiBB at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


missix writes "The showering thing is interesting - I knew it was good to skip occasionally to avoid drying out skin, but I didn't really think it had health benefit beyond that. "

Every time I read someone advocating showering less it is obvious that they have the privilege of not working a job that actually requires one to get dirty.
posted by Mitheral at 5:12 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


A few years ago I received several email messages about the monkey-method of banana peeling. (I do eat rather a lot of bananas, at least compared to my family and colleagues, and have acquired a bit of a reputation for it.) It sounded convincing, and I gave it a fair try, with bananas of several different varieties and maturity. I really wanted it to work, not only because it sounds useful, and I like useful things, but also because discovering that a universal and widely adopted cultural practice is obviously, demonstrably the wrong approach is perfectly resonant with my own social and political convictions. But, despite my best efforts, I had to give up and admit that, at least in this one small area, western civilization has actually done a pretty good job of finding the optimal solution.

The problem with the monkey-method is that it naturally brings your hands into contact with the sticky intra-peel fluid along the broken edge. Unlike the traditional stem-side approach, there's no clean place to hold while peeling. It may be marginally easier to open the fruit, but it's also overwhelmingly more likely you'll wind up with gooey, sticky slime on your hands.

To adopt the monkey-method is to trade a problem that isn't actually a problem - "this banana is hard to open" - for a problem that *is* actually a problem - "now my fingers are sticky and I'll have to either awkwardly duck out of this meeting or resign myself to cleaning my keyboard later."

If I may engage in a few moments of unmitigated snark, I note that the monkey method of eating oatmeal saves time and resources that would otherwise be wasted washing spoons.
posted by eotvos at 5:28 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sleeping in modern society being unnatural is common sense. Allow me to use my incredible powers of reasoning:
-Artificial light is new
-Reliable buildings are relatively new
-Spending a majority of time indoors is VERY new
-Natural light varies by season, location, weather
-Things happen at night

Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep was never the norm. It still isn't. If you get it, good for you, but you're the exception.

There's plenty of cultures which do not practice Western sleeping habits, btw. Pretty much anywhere in the tropics has a siesta in the 11-3pm hour, for example. Argentina is a great example of an entire country on a different schedule than ours.
posted by mek at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re: siestas: That's an excellent point! Perhaps modern workplaces should allow employees to simply conform to their natural afternoon glucose drops and implement a flexi-nap policy.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:54 PM on April 6, 2011


I think the siesta thing has more to do with your cultural heritage than your climate. They might exist in some places in the Caribbean, but I haven't heard about them or encountered them in any of the other islands, and certainly not in mine. I mean, if only. Not only were we colonised by the British, but we were, of course, their slaves. They didn't even hand down teatime to us, let alone Spanish naps.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:56 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're right the Puritan work ethic definitely displaced siestas for a lot of colonies. The British really are the worst.
posted by mek at 6:13 PM on April 6, 2011


Every time I read one of these things about how all that showering you're doing is wrong and bad for your skin I reflect on how healthy and nice smelling all the homeless people I work with are.

I'm betting it's the clothes more than the homeless person in them. I would rather be around someone who put on clean clothes every day but didn't shower for a week than someone been showering every day then putting the same clothes back on for a week.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:22 PM on April 6, 2011


The sleeping habits thing is the one I like. It's how I sleep on weekends. Wake up at 9am, watch some cartoons, wake up at 2
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:36 PM on April 6, 2011


A lot of this is the typical cracked MO. Make grandiose claims by carefully omitting criticism of an alternative to an accepted thing.

1. Segmented sleep? Turns out sleeping habits are largely cultural and there's no one size fits all. A hunter-gatherer might do segmented, a farmer a full 7 hours, an modern person 6, etc. There have been studies that show disrupted sleep or sleeping at different times as linked to higher mortality. Like eating, the secret of sleep is to get enough, but not too much, and to do it well. I'm skeptical there's some "natural" sleep cycle that works great. If there was we'd be doing it just for better productivity.

2. Pooping. Its probably easier to go while squatting, but we have to look at the big picture. How many more slips and falls does this produce? I'd rather have a hemorrhoid than a broken pelvis. I just watched a travelogue of China and an elderly person was carrying a chair cut out to be used as a toilet seat. Squatting does have big detriments for the elderly.

3. Showering. First off, the bit about surgeons not showering before surgery sounds like BS. I can't find anything on google about it and a lot of surgeons work long hours and several days in a row. By this logic they could never shower. The bit about microorganisms is meaningless. Its not the germs I'm getting off, but clumps of dirt and oils which are festering with germs, garbage, and who knows what else.

4. Breathing. Yes, abdominal breathing is good, but you breathe via an involuntary process. You can't teach yourself to change that. Everyone breathes wrong.

5. Babies. Not sure, but he didn';t investigate the downsides of his proposed approach.

6. Brushing. A lot of text to say "you shouldnt brush directly after a meal." Dentists have been advising waiting 60 minutes to brush for a while and this only applies if you eat acidic foods.

7. Sitting. Same as the pooping. What are the downsides of standing or 'active sitting.' Do we have more falls? Wouldn't it be just better to get up more often?

While its easy to criticize a lot of our modern habits, it turns out that the alternatives have equal or more problems. There's no perfect approach. Evolution does not work that way. Unfortunately, most health articles in cracked are like this. The author purposely attacks a modern method and plays up an alternative method without any criticism of it. Its the 21st century Weekly Word News, but slightly less conspiratorial. Its for our sophisticated and educated weirdo.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:16 PM on April 6, 2011


Unfortunately, most health articles in cracked are like this. The author purposely attacks a modern method and plays up an alternative method without any criticism of it. Its the 21st century Weekly Word News, but slightly less conspiratorial. Its for our sophisticated and educated weirdo.

Yeah, I don't really trust the health articles. Love the history ones, though. I'm reading one on Russian space disasters now that's a recent FPP x4. What's the policy about linking to them anyway? I thought it was like Onion and Daily Show links, where you don't do it much.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:37 PM on April 6, 2011


2. Pooping. Its probably easier to go while squatting, but we have to look at the big picture. How many more slips and falls does this produce? I'd rather have a hemorrhoid than a broken pelvis. I just watched a travelogue of China and an elderly person was carrying a chair cut out to be used as a toilet seat. Squatting does have big detriments for the elderly.


Actually, this may be exactly backward. Some researchers are asking whether the rising rates of hip fractures in China are due to the introduction of Western-style toilets and subsequent loss of strength, balance, and flexibility afforded by regular squatting. Hip fracture rates in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan also rose as those countries industrialized.
posted by HotToddy at 7:38 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had a roommate who got used to squatting in India so he installed a toilet seat that extended outward on each side so you could squat and shit. It's hard to argue with human intestinal design.

Sounds like Nature's Platform.
posted by homunculus at 9:34 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


While its easy to criticize a lot of our modern habits, it turns out that the alternatives have equal or more problems. There's no perfect approach.

This is the lamest criticism, wow. "There's no perfect approach", but there are better approaches in every single one of these categories than the one the dominant Western culture has adopted. Your rebuttals are exclusively hearsay while Cracked at least cited sources (!!!). Your strongest point is that yes, dentists now point out they were wrong, and the admittedly the article doesn't admit that. Stiff toothbrushes have also been phased out as they were determined to damage, rather than help, teeth.
posted by mek at 9:49 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


5. Babies. Not sure, but he didn';t investigate the downsides of his proposed approach.

Just to further hammer how incredibly facile your responses are, "his proposed approach" was just ripped from the World Health Organization, as the article acknowledges. I suspect the WHO has, in fact, investigated the upsides and downsides of birthing. Maybe, just maybe. Reading comprehension FTW?
posted by mek at 9:51 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


And finally: the authors of this article are women.
posted by mek at 9:52 PM on April 6, 2011


First off, the bit about surgeons not showering before surgery sounds like BS.

Not going to bother figuring out where exactly, but I definitely clicked on this link to the CDC site at some point while reading either the linked article or the discussion here:

Extensive studies of showering and bathing conducted since the 1960s demonstrated that these activities increase dispersal of skin bacteria into the air and ambient environment (10-12), probably through breaking up and spreading of microcolonies on the skin surface and resultant contamination of surrounding squamous cells. These studies prompted a change in practice among surgical personnel, who are now generally discouraged from showering immediately before entering the operating room. Other investigators have shown that the skin microflora varies between persons but is remarkably consistent for each person over time. Even without bathing for many days, the flora remain qualitatively and quantitatively stable (13-15).
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:35 PM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't really understand the scepticism towards Ekrich's work here; he is largely using fiction & mass-published work rather than diaries or first hand accounts, but that's for fairly obvious practical/access reasons (plus, most of the sorts of people who would have got up to milk cows were not, of course, literate). I don't think it's particularly reasonable to cherry pick the few of his refs. which are easy to access on Guttenberg and use those to dismiss the rest.
I'm not aware of any major academic critiques - and the article's been out a decade; there have been serious sleep-history studies done since then, and there's no obvious opposition to his conclusions (e.g. analysis of medical/healthy living books has not shown that '8 solid hours' is held up as a gold standard, etc.). So while 500 refs over 500 years might not *sound* particularly impressive, it's not like any one else has done better...

It's tenuous to suggest that everyone, everywhere, did this, but not at all tenuous to say "we have these phrases - 'first and second sleep' - which are widely used. D'ya think that might mean something?".
posted by AFII at 1:32 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


An increase in pooping speed would decimate the already fragile American publishing industry.
posted by condour75 at 4:11 AM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


These studies prompted a change in practice among surgical personnel, who are now generally discouraged from showering immediately before entering the operating room.

That makes absolutely no sense; since when have OR personnel routinely showered at work? Everyone I know presumably showers at home, gets dressed, eats breakfast at some point, and drives to work, by which time the immediate effects of showering have dissipated. We have showers at work but they are rarely used; only after a long night on call or when someone gets contaminated with something nasty (like the radioactive urine incident). Also, our infection control folks get anal about all sorts of things like hand washing, how and where scrubs are worn, proper techniques for placing and accessing IV lines, and on and on (some of which are reasonable and some of which have little or no evidence behind them), but they have never said a word about when and where OR personnel bathe.
posted by TedW at 6:40 AM on April 7, 2011


AFII: I don't really understand the scepticism towards Ekrich's work here...

Well, I thought I'd given plenty of reasons already.

1. Impractical to get up at night when it's dark and cold
2. Firelight has existed for all human history
3. Quantity of references is unimpressive
4. Quality of references is unimpressive when investigated
5. Have seen no evidence myself when reading old texts
6. Broken sleep often happens now, no evidence it was more common long ago

But if you want more, let's look at the etymology and linguistics.

Words that are used often tend to be short. For instance "sleep" and "nap": things that we unquestionably do every day. But "second sleep" is a three-syllable phrase: if most people did it every day from 500 years, that phrase would likely have been shortened to a single word.

Moreover, the words First, Sleep and Nap are all Germanic/Anglo-Saxon in origin. But Second is a Latinate word, presumably dating from the Norman conquest.

Why are all these simple country peasants using the compound phrase "second sleep", made up of an elite Latinate word and a lower-class Anglo-Saxon word, for something they've done every night from time immemorial? Wouldn't something like "aftersleep" be more likely, from the Anglo-Saxon æfterra meaning "after" or "second"?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:39 AM on April 8, 2011


Oh, well
1 + 2 - he's not making the 'they all got up and milked cows' argument. He's saying that there were two phases of sleep, and sometimes people did stuff (including: thinking, and sex) in between. So, dark and cold and firelight aren't relevant.

3 + 4 - if you say so. You've cherry picked a few references.

5 - unquantifiable, I haven't seen any contrary evidence reading medical texts about sleep, but don't think my personal experience is enough to prove or disprove his case.

6 - I don't think he is saying it's less common now. I think he's saying that we react to it as if it were abnormal now, when in the past it was an acceptable sleep pattern.

You're conflating the article/book with the extrapolations journalists have made.

re. the etymology, I think this is a confused argument; you complained that he over-used fiction and publications from the literate few, and yet now you're arguing that because it's a latinate, fancy sounding word, peasants didn't use it? The idea that there 'should' be a phrase is an interesting counterfactual, but I don't think it disproves the apparent fact that the idealisation of the eight-solid-hours sleep pattern is a modern phenomenon.
posted by AFII at 4:55 AM on April 8, 2011


3 + 4 - if you say so. You've cherry picked a few references.

I didn't exactly cherry pick as in "sort through a large number and find the ones that support my case". I looked at the first three references I could find, and described them all here. Sure, maybe the more accessible ones are biased somehow. But when someone says to me "I've got 500 items of evidence for this unlikely theory", and the first three I check are rubbish, I'm not that inclined to seek out the next 497.

re. the etymology, I think this is a confused argument; you complained that he over-used fiction and publications from the literate few, and yet now you're arguing that because it's a latinate, fancy sounding word, peasants didn't use it? The idea that there 'should' be a phrase is an interesting counterfactual, but I don't think it disproves the apparent fact that the idealisation of the eight-solid-hours sleep pattern is a modern phenomenon.

I never complained that he over-used fiction and publications from the literate few. I just pointed out that his sources describe insomnia and secret nighttime trysts in the same way as modern people who are active in the night.

Perhaps I wasn't clear. I don't actually believe him that "first sleep", "first nap" and "second sleep" exists as distinct phrases designating a particular thing at all. I think those phrases just happen to occur sometimes as conjunctions of the words "first", "second", "sleep" and "nap".

The fact that "second" has a Latinate origin and "sleep" a Germanic origin is another thing that leads me to think they're not part of a distinct phrase. The point is that if a phrase did exists as he claims, it would be likely to have two words from the same source. "Aftersleep" for instance would be a conjunction of two Germanic words. "Second repose" would be a conjunction of two Latinate words. But "second sleep" seems implausible to me since it mixes the two.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:14 AM on April 8, 2011


The fact that "second" has a Latinate origin and "sleep" a Germanic origin is another thing that leads me to think they're not part of a distinct phrase. The point is that if a phrase did exists as he claims, it would be likely to have two words from the same source. "Aftersleep" for instance would be a conjunction of two Germanic words

It would have been 'other' (old english for 'second'), not 'after', but I think this is a silly argument, personally.
posted by empath at 7:59 AM on April 8, 2011


I just think that if his thesis is controversial or worth opposing or dismissed by mainstream historians, there would be actual academic opposition to it. But I haven't read a single response.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:26 PM on April 8, 2011


Well, I've been intrigued lately by Mike Sutton's concept of Braced Myths, like iron in spinach and Zombie Cops:
Braced myths begin as fallacies produced by errors, bias, lies, academic fraud, hoaxes and other forms of pseudo scholarship that are created, packaged to look like facts, and disseminated by orthodox experts. These fallacies become myths as more people accept them. They become braced myths when orthodox respected sceptics credulously believe them, and while still believing they are true promote them as examples of the need to be sceptical of fallacies and myths.
Despite the theory of "nullius in verba", in practice if a myth has a respectable-looking academic source promoting it, people will accept it based on authority alone.

Anyway, my original comments was just a request for the primary sources, and I think we're all pretty happy with the results: thanks for everyone's links. I'm satisfied that the thesis is false because the primary sources I can check up on are unconvincing. You guys are satisfied that the thesis is true, because the other sources exist somewhere and nobody else has complained about them. So, I think we're done here.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:39 AM on April 9, 2011


Alright, I know who can settle this. Time for someone to email Straight Dope.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:08 AM on April 9, 2011


1. Impractical to get up at night when it's dark and cold
2. Firelight has existed for all human history

It's like you have never woken up in the middle of the night to piss on a firepit before.
posted by mek at 2:29 AM on April 9, 2011


Or been woken up by the cold because of your reduced heart rate while sleeping. Lucky you.

Honestly, when you are desperately attacking the phrase "second sleep" (hardly a key point in the argument) on linguistic grounds, you've gone so far past losing the argument it's kind of sad. I mean you could easily find one historical example to contradict the account, if, you know, you had a coherent rebuttal based on evidence. But you don't, do you?
posted by mek at 2:32 AM on April 9, 2011


mek, I don't need to find evidence to rebut it. Roger Ekirch the one making a case, so it's a question of whether his evidence is convincing.

It's interesting that nobody here has said "I've read the book and the weight of evidence he presents is convincing", or "I've looked at his papers and his statistical methodology seems sound".

Remember that he's not just making a case that modern sleeping patterns are just one of many options. He's making the case that "segmented sleep" is the natural way to sleep, and has distinct mental and physical health benefits:
In addition to suggesting that consolidated sleep, such as we today experience, is unnatural, segmented slumber afforded the unconscious an expanded avenue to the waking world that has remained closed for most of the Industrial Age.

For there is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals still exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age, with a provenance as old as humankind

...Significantly for our understanding of early modern demography, segmented sleep may have enhanced a couple's ability to conceive children, since fertility might have benefited from an interlude of rest.
I just get a distinct feeling of woo to this kind of thing. "Expanded avenue between the subconscious and the waking world", seriously? Deciding which traditions are "natural" and which "unnatural"? I really thought the social sciences didn't do this stuff anymore.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:03 AM on April 10, 2011


He's a published scholar on the subject; you're waving your hands on a web forum.
posted by mek at 1:20 AM on April 11, 2011


If you would like to read his books and compose a critique, that would be interesting to us here. Until then, you are just poisoning the well, contributing nothing.
posted by mek at 1:24 AM on April 11, 2011


On the contrary, I'm on-topic: discussing item #4 of 7 in the linked article.

I don't recall any "don't disagree with published scholars" rule on Metafilter. We disagree with them all the time. In fact, such a rule would be a logical fallacy: the argument from authority.

Moreover, whether he's a published scholar on the subject depends on what you think the subject is. He's a professor of history, who before this specialized in American colonial history. However, he's not a biologist or medical doctor, so he's not particularly qualified in deducing "natural" sleep cycles. His evidence mostly comes from linguistic analysis of word frequencies, but he has no qualifications in linguistics. It's also interesting that he says this:
The fewer references to segmented sleep I have found in early American sources suggests that this pattern, though present in North America, may have been less widespread than in Europe, for reasons ranging from differences in day/night ratios to the wider availability of candles and other forms of artificial illumination in the colonies.
He finds the least historical evidence in his own specialist area. Instead it's older English, Italian, French and Latin sources that he claims to find "fragments" supporting his views:
Until the close of the early modern era, Western Europeans on most evenings experienced two major intervals of sleep bridged by up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness. In the absence of fuller descriptions, fragments in several languages that I have surveyed survive in sources ranging from depositions and diaries to imaginative literature. From these shards of information, we can piece together the essential features of this puzzling pattern of repose. The initial interval of slumber was usually referred to as "first sleep," or, less often, "first nap" or "dead sleep."65 In French, the term was "premier sommeil" or "premier somme,"66 in Italian, "primo sonno" or "primo sono,"67 and in Latin, "primo somno" or "concubia nocte."68 The intervening period of consciousness—what Stevenson poetically labeled a "nightly resurrection"—bore no name, other than the generic term "watch" or "watching" to indicate a period of wakefulness that stemmed, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "from disinclination or incapacity for sleep." Two contrasting texts refer to the time of "first waking".
How come a Colonial American historian is suddenly an expert in Italian, French and Latin, discovering things that the specialists in those areas haven't noticed?

Another data point: one of those references to "first waking" is available, Private prayers: put forth by authority during the reign of Queen Elizabeth:
A Prayer to be said at our first waking

God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom no rest of thine exceeding great benefits towards me this, which is the greatest that can be bestowed upon mankind, may be added also, namely, that as thou hast raised up my body from fast and sound sleep, so also thou wilt deliver my mind from the sleep of sin and from the darkness of this world, and after death restore the same body to life, as well as thou hast called it again from sleep : for that, which is death to us, is but sleep unto thee.
"First waking" here clearly just means it's a prayer to be said as soon as you wake up. It's not evidence of waking up temporarily in the middle of night. It even compares waking up to the Christian resurrection into eternal life! If this is his "first waking" where you're supposed to lie still and nod off again in an hour, that metaphor doesn't remotely work.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2011


« Older Dr. Fuchs’s Donald was no ordinary comic creation....  |  French photographer and digita... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments