Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Sunday musings…1/21/2024

1 Zebra. I might as well be sitting at a window in Ice Station Zebra. While I can’t walk to Canada, from where I’m sitting it does look like all I’d need to do is pull a little row boat behind me to scoot across the open areas in the ice that spans out before me further than I can see without binoculars.

Kinda reminds me of the famous novel (and inevitable movie) Ice Station Zebra from the 1970’s. You young’uns have no memory of this, of course, but the 1970’s were awash with end-of-times tales of a world plunged back into another Ice Age after the relatively warm and placid climate of the early 20th Century. That’s right, with all of the industrial growth in the mid-20th Century the climate cooled and people called for science to save humanity from the incipient frost.

Just another reminder me Droogies that cold kills.

2 Brain Health. Part 2: sleep. Turns out that both duration and quality of sleep is a key factor in protecting your squash from rotting. Sleep in mid-life plays an important role in preserving the health of your brain and lowering your risk of developing, or the severity of the dementia that you develop.

Let’s start with a little bit of the basics of sleep. Humans sleep in cycles that last approximately 90 minutes, plus or minus a little bit. Each cycle contains 4 discrete sections broken down into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM sections of which there are 3. NR-1 is very light sleep during which you are still partly aware of your surroundings; this is the stage in which we are most wakeful and from which we most naturally awaken spontaneously. N-2 is when we truly fall asleep and is the longest stage. Delta waves begin to appear on our EEG and both our heart rate and respiratory rates slow down. N-3 is deep sleep, the stage from which it is most difficult to awaken. REM sleep is when the most vivid dreams occur. The N-3 and REM stages each last about 25% of a cycle.

Our best, healthiest sleep occurs when we sleep for X complete cycles, awakening just after REM sleep and before N-1 is over. This is a bit counter intuitive. For instance, if you do the math you will have a higher quality night of sleep if you awaken after 6 hours (4 90-minute cycles) than if you wake up or are awakened after 7 hours, right in the middle of N-3 or deep sleep. In general we also tend to function better in the long term if we retire at night and awaken in the morning at roughly the same time each day. Limiting exposure to bright light, especially blue or violet light, makes it easier to fall asleep (transition from N-1 to N-2). Following on last week’s thoughts on alcohol, a drink close to bedtime will move you from N-1 to N-2 more quickly, but alcohol disrupts the completion of cycles; we often fail to enter REM sleep before returning to N-1.

Bottom line? Quality sleep including a healthy REM stage, with the quantity of sleep driven by how many CYCLES, not hours, that you have slept, is an important tool to help prevent or delay the onset of dementia. Next week: autonomic nervous system and exercise.

3 Sports Illustrated. One entire wall of the bedroom I shared with my brother growing up was papered with classic full-page illustrations from Sports Illustrated.

This week the sports world was greeted with the news that Sports Illustrated, the venerable magazine that transformed the world of sports reporting from an essentially local endeavor into one of national interest, was soon to be no more. For reasons that frankly aren’t all that well explained, something financial has caused the group that has been publishing SI to “lose its license”. The news that we all heard was that this group would lay-off either most or all of the what remains of SI’s staff, both on the publishing (business) and editorial (writing/photography) sides. Those of you who have loved SI, like me, remember the halcyon days pre-private equity buy-out and the post-sale initial purge that jettisoned most of what remained of the star-studded roster of writers.

Internet wags have been all about how this was inevitable, not because of the finances that resulted in the private equity group’s pillaging of SI’s assets but because of the annual SI Swimsuit Issue. I found it interesting that a super-majority of folks in high dungeon over this referenced the swimsuit issue as “one of the 12 annual issues”, labeling themselves immediately as Johhny/Janey-come-latelies with no real emotional skin in the game; until 2020 or so SI was published weekly beginning in the 1950’s, and the swimsuit issue was not published as a separate, stand-alone issue until the 1990’s or so (there was reporting on the previous week’s significant sporting events in the first half of the issue).

No, it was the cold-hearted stripping of assets coupled with a complete tone-deafness by the financial cowboys that did in what had become a cultural landmark in our sports-obsessed country. SI was an icon that drove conversation across almost all divides in our society, at least among sports fans. To be sure, the opera-obsessed or the high fashion followers were as likely to read SI as an Alabama football fan was to pick up The New Yorker, but if you read SI you had strong opinions about all kinds of stuff sports related, and equally strong opinions about SI and its reporting. Seriously, the letters to the editor after an article on chess or bowling were almost as fun to read as the ones 2 weeks after the swimsuit issue.

If you were an SI reader you still remember what day yours came in the mail each week. Mine came every Thursday when I was young and had yet to fledge the nest. My folks gave each of us a subscription of our own when we headed off to college; mine still arrived in my mailbox on Thursday at school. It took me months to get used to the Friday delivery day here in Cleveland, my home for some 33 years now. You had a pattern, how you read each issue. Purists started by opening the front page and starting at the start. Others, like me, went directly to the last page and “Point After” by Rick Reilly. My only letter to SI was actually addressed to Reilly. Sadly, neither SI’s editors nor Rick considered my thoughts worthy or either publication or a reply.

At their peak it would have been hard to determine which end of the year award was more eagerly awaited and discussed, Time Magazine’s Man (now Person) of the Year or Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman (now Sportsperson) of the year. With all of the international upheaval these days including two wars and Artificial Intelligence’s 12 month Debutante Ball, this year Time named Taylor Swift Person of the Year, perhaps the least surprising and controversial choice in recent memory. Ah, but not Sports Illustrated. Nope, this year they went off the proverbial board and made the kind of nearly unfathomable choice that always made you sit on the edge of the throne waiting for the announcement: Deion Sanders, most recently head coach of the University of Colorado’s football team.

It almost seems like someone on the editorial side got tipped off about the coming bad news and decided to go out big.

Now please understand, I have nothing against either Mr. Sanders or the University of Colorado. But please, after a really fun first few weeks of the season in which the Buffaloes upset a couple of reasonably good teams, they cratered, finishing with a 4-8 record and a 6 game losing streak. Yes, sure, Coach Sanders brought in a huge amount of PR, raised the profile of a once-proud program, and was masterful at manipulating the new administrative landscape of big-time college football (transfer portals, NIL, etc.). But still, 4-8.

This is a magazine that once declared Mario Andretti SOTY after winning a single F1 Race. In a year in which Max Verstappen won 14 races and clinched the F1 title with 6 races yet to be run, we get Deion Sanders. Sports Illustrated has long made room for sports with a smaller footprint like tennis and golf. This year the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund-backed LIV golf and its public face Greg Norman continued to upset the professional golf apple cart, while Novak Djokovic won 3 of the 4 tennis majors, coming within one set of the first calendar Grand Slam in modern tennis history; we get Deion Sanders. SI has arguably done as much as ABC Sports in building the Olympic Games into the behemoth they have become. In the year that multi-gold medal winning skier Micaela Shiffrin became the all-time leader in World Cup wins, we get Deion Sanders. Two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani is the unanimous winner of Major League Baseball and…

You get the picture.

Perhaps the saddest part of all of this is that we are talking about the tragedy of the travesty visited upon a cultural icon that once sat astride one of the intersections of American culture rather than yet another culture clashing cluster of a choice for its signature award. Where once I would have spent literally hours hashing out the editors’ decision to anoint Deion Sanders at SOTY in 2023, now we dissect the meaning of the cryptic droppings from the financial toilet bowl that owns SI. There really is a conversation to be had just about Deion Sanders for goodness sake. Lost in all of the gold chains and golden mirrored sunglasses is the fact that once upon a time he was a legit candidate for SOTY when he was an active professional athlete in both the NFL and MLB.

It’s a shame. All of it. The long, slow, painful decline of this once great publication, from weekly must-read to monthly curio, and now oblivion. We should have gnashing of teeth, beating of breasts and wailing. Tears should be shed by the proverbial Gatorade bucketful. Like the famous poem about an athlete dying young we should be imploring someone, anyone, to rage against the dying of SI’s light.

For all that is so very wrong, we should all plead for someone to keep the last Sportsperson of the Year from being a college football coach with a losing record.

I’ll see you next week…

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