Don’t Snooze on Sleep

We all need more sleep. There’s no way around it.

In January, the CDC officially declared sleeplessness a public health epidemic in America. In addition to the numerous personal health risks, the CDC’s move was motivated out of concern for mounting workplace and driving disasters in the United States. All signs point to a deepening sleep-deprivation crisis in this country.

For example, according to federally-funded studies between 2005 and 2008, an estimated 49.2 million adults have trouble concentrating because of their sleep habits. That’s around 20 percent of the U.S. adult population.

As to be expected, healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, are consistently ranked as the most sleep-deprived adults. I am highly appreciative of the sacrifices these care providers make every day (and night), and I am encouraged by the CDC’s treatment of sleep as a public health issue. In time, I hope that awareness and advocacy on the part of organizations such as the CDC and the National Sleep Foundation will help trigger a cultural shift where sleep gets the respect it deserves.

Here is a great infographic detailing the prevalence and risks of sleeplessness:

The Never-Ending Project: Writing

I firmly believe that you are never finished learning how to write— there is always room for improvement, refinement and polish. Lately, I’ve been glancing at articles and guides aimed at improving my grasp on the craft, and so far I know this much— when it comes to writing, there is no shortage of Internet advice!

Here are two articles I like:

5 simple ways to improve you writing

This Forbes article sends you back to the basics.   “Read it aloud” and “just write” make this list.  However, the author, Jenna Britton, provides some interesting twists on these traditional strategies.  It’s also good to read a published writer’s take on improvement, no matter how basic their advice may be.

16 ways to improve your writing skills

This article is pulled from the blog of freelance journalist and nonfiction writer Dan Shewan. Compared to the Forbes piece, it’s a much more comprehensive writing guide. However, Shewan’s advice still retains a broad, conceptual focus that doesn’t tell you where to place your words.

Now, what are you waiting for? Get to writing!

Humanity’s Magic Number

According to psychologist Susan Pinker, everyone has a magic number — 150. While 150 probably won’t help you pick a winning Powerball ticket, it might just make you a happier person.

Pinker is the author of a new book called “The Village Effect.” In a recent NPR interview, Pinker explained the village effect—and the significance of 150—in depth.

According to Pinker, 150 is the average population of traditional villages throughout history around the world. Her work, which is based on evolutionary psychology, implies that community size has been determined by our need for social ties.

Here’s another key piece of her theory: 150 is not only the perfect number to create a sense of community, but it’s also the maximum number of meaningful social connections a human can supposedly develop.

This number doesn’t blend very well with Facebook, Twitter or even modern life, does it?

I found Pinker’s work and her NPR interview so interesting exactly for this reason. According to Pew Research, the average number of Facebook friends is now 338. With social media, we’re told that bigger must be better. Personally, I believe in quality over quantity when measuring friendships and professional acquaintances.

While we no longer live in villages of 150, I think it’s healthy for all of us to have reality a check from time to time concerning social interaction. And for me, this interview did just that.

Trendy Tools for Getting Social

After reading Dan Zarella’s Instagram study last week, I wanted to learn more about the technical side of online engagement—information feeds, sharing tools, analytics, etc. How do marketers and advertisers maximize shares and likes, and how are they improving tools to reach target audiences?

As it turns out, there’s a lot of experimentation with different strategies and platforms to bolster the reach of today’s online content.

One interesting article I found was written by Alicia Lawrence for PRtini. Lawrence’s article names four emerging tools that could help drive visual content to new audiences and corners of the internet.

Here is a quick look at two of these intriguing tools:

  • Viral Content Buzz— A crowdsourcing tool to generate (kind of) organic social shares. You can either buy points to get your content shared, or earn points by sharing other people’s content. I think this is a great arrangement: Viral Content Buzz feeds off of everyone’s need for an audience, and turns that need into results. You get out what you put in.
  • BuzzSumo Pro— BuzzSumo delves deep into content analysis and promotion. Once you’ve picked a topic of interest, BuzzSumo will comprehensively search for the topic across the internet, compare the topic to other content in its relevant industry, and break down shares of the topic by network and content type. You can also analyze social and content success through a side-by-side domain comparison report.

In healthcare, providers are turning more and more to social media to learn about and bolster their reputations. Do these innovative tools have a future in that world? Only time will tell.

Strategic Selfies?

In the age of social media, visual content is an important business tool for digital engagement and marketing. For healthcare, an industry in which numbers and statistics are plentiful, conveying important information in simple, digestible formats is essential.

While nearly all social networks provide some sort of platform for posting pictures, Instagram is the indisputable visual champion. People love photos.

As with traditional messaging and marketing, there are firm rules that should be followed in order to capture attention on Instagram. According to Dan Zarrella, a leading voice in social media research at HubSpot, the best Instagram content plays on a blend of traditional advertising strategy and new rules unique to the digital age.

Here are a few of Zarrella’s findings:

  • Planned color palates work. Users are much more likely to engage with a photo using a coordinated color scheme.
  • Humanizing content helps audiences connect. Photos with faces get 35 percent more Likes.
  • Keep images professional and clean. Filters and oversaturation triggered a significant decrease in Likes.

So, what about you? Do you have an Instagram strategy? And if so, will Zarella’s study cause you to rethink it?

The Ethics of Eradicating Ebola

About a month ago, I wrote about the ongoing scientific debate over experiments with infectious diseases. My blog focused on the risks and rewards of such work — what is the potential gain for public health? What are the dangers of breeding deadly microbes? That post was prompted by news coverage of the West African Ebola outbreak. On Tuesday, I read a Reuters article that examines another set of ethical questions concerning vaccines and deadly diseases.

The situation in West Africa has only worsened. However, in that same time period, early, experimental Ebola vaccines have emerged and helped save the lives of two American doctors. In an effort to save lives, health authorities and pharmaceutical companies are attempting to roll out these vaccines in a matter of months, rather than years. In short, they will both deploy and test new vaccines at the same time. This raises immediate, unprecedented ethical concerns. Most importantly, it may force the scientific community to accept that longstanding protocols and procedures cannot always apply in times of crisis.

Reuters reports that the World Health Organization expects the first of these experimental vaccines to be administered in West Africa by January. These new ethical questions surrounding vaccine development are just some of the many ways in which Ebola is testing global public health. The coming months will be a unique – and telling – opportunity in medical history.