Hilariously awesome scientific paper finally reveals whether going to bed early make you healthy, wealthy, and wise

Illustration for article titled Hilariously awesome scientific paper finally reveals whether going to bed early make you healthy, wealthy, and wise

That, at least, was Benjamin Franklin's theory. (He also said we should be early to rise, because he was a jerk, I guess.) But when scientists put this old maxim to the test, did they find any truth to it?

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Back in 2006, that's what a trio of researchers tried to find out, albeit in a, uh, less than completely serious way. (For example: their lone footnote is, "This article was peer reviewed by someone. Peggy? You read this, right?") They explained they were testing the Benjamin Franklin hypothesis that "early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" against the competing hypothesis by 20th century author and wit James Thurber, who amended it to "healthy, wealthy, and dead."

Here's how they did it:

As part of the Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study, we determined through personal interviews the bedtimes and wake times of 949 men admitted to hospital with acute myocardial infarction. Participants reported their educational attainment and zip code of residence, from which local median income was estimated. We followed participants for mortality for a mean of 3.7 years. We defined early-to-bed and early-to-rise respectively as a bedtime before 11 pm and wake time before 6:30 am.

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The researchers found that about the only clear relationship to how many hours a person slept was how much coffee they drank...as you might imagine, that particular relationship was inverse. They found that there was no significant relationship at all between when a person's sleep schedule and their mortality, income levels, or education, which are decent enough experimental stand-ins for health, wealth, and wisdom, although they do acknowledge the problems with all these in wonderfully tongue-in-cheek fashion:

We acknowledge several limitations of our work. First, we enrolled a population of AMI patients and, thus, none can truly be considered healthy. However, none of us is really all that healthy anyway. Second, due to our own lack of wisdom, we know of no reliable and validated instruments to measure it; education is but an ill-schooled substitute. Third, we had no measures of personal income, and thus these analyses test the rather oblique hypothesis that early-to-bed and early-to-rise makes a man's locale of residence wealthy.

"None of us is really all that healthy anyway"...now that, ladies and gentlemen, is good science. Anyway, they finish off their paper with a promise of more research into old sayings like these - a promise that we can only hope the scientific community someday keeps:

In conclusion, we found no evidence to support the Franklin or Thurber hypotheses that sleep habits dictate health, wealth or wisdom, either for the good or the bad. Further research remains necessary to determine whether Franklin's ("He that lives upon Hope, dies farting") or Thurber's ("It is better to have loafed and lost, than never to have loafed at all") other hypotheses fare better under formal scrutiny.

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I'd get to work organizing those experiments myself, but I'll be honest - I've got to go look for more fart-related quotes from the Founding Fathers. It just seems like the right thing to do. While I'm doing that, I very much advise checking out the original paper, which you can read in its entirety at the link below.

Paper at CMAJ via NCBI ROFL. Image via Lars Plougmann's Flickr.

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DISCUSSION

I don’t know if the paper misses the point of Franklins aphorism, but it’s likely that many of those who read it did. What Franklin is drawing attention to isn’t the amount of sleep ones get or when one gets it. Instead, the emphasis is on the habit of going to sleep and waking early, neither of which is easy to do. This actually is a model, many would argue, for being successful and many contemporary papers today support the idea that particular types of habits or the ability to practice in certain ways leads to being successful.

Going to sleep and waking early serve as a good model for this because one can imagine that doing it successfully has many of the characteristics of good habits or practices. It must be consistent and to do it right the sleeper probably needs to get the feedback and critiques necessary to improve the practice of this habit to its highest state. If you know how to succeed at making yourself go to sleep and wake early than you have the formula for succeeding with other practices that lead to excellence.

The authors may not have found " evidence to support the Franklin or Thurber hypotheses that sleep habits dictate health, wealth or wisdom, either for the good or the bad. " But there is plenty of evidence that this type of habit, and the ability to cultivate it in other areas of ones life, does really lead to success