Rest Up: Sleep Powers Your Social Life
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Between our jobs, our social lives, exercising and family obligations, it’sall too easy to sacrifice sleep to accommodate our overbooked schedules.
The problem with that strategy is that sleep provides the energy you need to power back up for another busy day.
You can’t perform at your best unless you give your body time to rejuvenate during sleep, says Rachel Salas, M.D. , an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The Restorative Power of Sleep
Scientists are still figuring out everything that happens in our brains and bodies while we catch our nightly ZZZs, says Salas.
But it’s clear that sleep is important for locking in memories and pruning unnecessary details that can clutter your thinking.
“We believe that when you’re sleeping, your brain is getting rid of information you no longer need,” Salas explains – freeing up brainpower for the memories and details that matter.
Sleep also gives your body a chance to refresh itself, Salas adds. “Sleep is a time when the systems in the body wind down and rest.”
Sleep deprivation can impact your health and wellness in a number of ways. Regularly skipping sleep can:
- Negatively affect your immune system. “If you’re sleep deprived, it can decrease your ability to fight infection,” Salas says.
- Alter appetite hormones and cause weight gain
- Ruin your mood and make you irritable. “That can spill over and impact your relationships,” Salas says.
- Interfere with memory and productivity
- Increase the risk of medical problems such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease
How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
Most healthy adults should aim to sleep 7 to 9 hours every night. Think you can get by with less? You might be fooling yourself.
“A lot of professionals believe that they’re short sleepers who need 6 hours or less. The truth is, that’s not very common,” Salas says. Often people who think they need less sleep are just good at compensating for the effects of sleep deprivation – for now. Chances are, though, that their sleep deficit will catch up with them eventually, she says.
You might be wondering if you can shortchange your sleep during the busy week and catch up on weekends. “Many sleep specialists believe you can never truly make up for chronic lost sleep,” Salas says.
While getting in some extra sleep can help you recuperate after an occasional sleepless night, it’s not a wise strategy in the long term. Sleeping in or taking naps on days off can increase the odds of developing insomnia and can lead to problems with the natural circadian rhythms that drive your sleep patterns, Salas says.
Make Sleep a Priority
Want to find ways to fit more sleep into your life? Here are some tools to try:
- Start small: Try going to bed just 10 to 15 minutes earlier. If you’re still feeling sleepy during the day, push your bedtime back another 15 minutes.
- Limit naps: To protect the quantity and quality of your nighttime sleep, cap daytime naps at 20 to 30 minutes, and don’t nap later than 3 p.m.
- Avoid caffeine: Limit caffeine in the late afternoon so you’re sleepy when bedtime rolls around.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help improve sleep.
- Make it a habit: Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, and try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day.
“A lot of people see sleep as a luxury. But the bottom line is, sleep matters,” Salas says. “Only you can make sleep a priority.”
Exercise is important for a healthy body and mind, and staying active canalso improve your sleep quality. But could exercising too close to bedtimewind you up and impair your slumber? Probably not.
Research and survey data suggest that in most people, nighttime exercisedoesn’t negatively affect sleep quality. If the evening is the best time tofit in your workout, give it a try. If you find you’re still wide-eyed atbedtime, you might want to exercise earlier in the evening. But evidencesuggests that most people sleep better when they exercise, no matter whattime of day they do it.
Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains?
The human brain is complex. Along with performing millions of mundane acts, it composes concertos, issues manifestos and comes up with elegant solutions to equations. It's the wellspring of all human feelings, behaviors, experiences as well as the repository of memory and self-awareness. So it's no surprise that the brain remains a mystery unto itself.
Adding to that mystery is the contention that humans “only” employ 10 percent of their brain. If only regular folk could tap that other 90 percent, they too could become savants who remember to the twenty-thousandth decimal place or perhaps even have telekinetic powers.
Though an alluring idea, the “10 percent myth” is so wrong it is almost laughable, says neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Although there's no definitive culprit to pin the blame on for starting this legend, the notion has been linked to the American psychologist and author William James, who argued in The Energies of Men that “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” It's also been associated with Albert Einstein, who supposedly used it to explain his cosmic towering intellect.
The myth's durability, Gordon says, stems from people's conceptions about their own brains: they see their own shortcomings as evidence of the existence of untapped gray matter. This is a false assumption. What is correct, however, is that at certain moments in anyone's life, such as when we are simply at rest and thinking, we may be using only 10 percent of our brains.
“It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time,” Gordon adds. “Let's put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body's weight and uses 20 percent of the body's energy.”
The average human brain weighs about three pounds and comprises the hefty cerebrum, which is the largest portion and performs all higher cognitive functions; the cerebellum, responsible for motor functions, such as the coordination of movement and balance; and the brain stem, dedicated to involuntary functions breathing.
The majority of the energy consumed by the brain powers the rapid firing of millions of neurons communicating with each other. Scientists think it is such neuronal firing and connecting that gives rise to all of the brain's higher functions.
The rest of its energy is used for controlling other activities—both unconscious activities, such as heart rate, and conscious ones, such as driving a car.
Although it's true that at any given moment all of the brain's regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, the body's muscles, most are continually active over a 24-hour period.
“Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain,” says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active, Henley explains.
Take the simple act of pouring coffee in the morning: In walking toward the coffeepot, reaching for it, pouring the brew into the mug, even leaving extra room for cream, the occipital and parietal lobes, motor sensory and sensory motor cortices, basal ganglia, cerebellum and frontal lobes all activate. A lightning storm of neuronal activity occurs almost across the entire brain in the time span of a few seconds.
“This isn't to say that if the brain were damaged that you wouldn't be able to perform daily duties,” Henley continues. “There are people who have injured their brains or had parts of it removed who still live fairly normal lives, but that is because the brain has a way of compensating and making sure that what's left takes over the activity.”
Being able to map the brain's various regions and functions is part and parcel of understanding the possible side effects should a given region begin to fail. Experts know that neurons that perform similar functions tend to cluster together.
For example, neurons that control the thumb's movement are arranged next to those that control the forefinger.
Thus, when undertaking brain surgery, neurosurgeons carefully avoid neural clusters related to vision, hearing and movement, enabling the brain to retain as many of its functions as possible.
What's not understood is how clusters of neurons from the diverse regions of the brain collaborate to form consciousness. So far, there's no evidence that there is one site for consciousness, which leads experts to believe that it is truly a collective neural effort.
Another mystery hidden within our crinkled cortices is that all the brain's cells, only 10 percent are neurons; the other 90 percent are glial cells, which encapsulate and support neurons, but whose function remains largely unknown.
Ultimately, it's not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.
27 nurses share their best tips for self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic
Anuja Vaidya () – Thursday, May 14th, 2020 Print | Email
As the pandemic rages on, the nurse community is at the forefront of the crisis, putting their physical and mental health at risk.
Here, 27 nurses share advice on how they protect themselves against burnout and handle stress during this unprecedented public health crisis.
Note: The following responses were edited for length and clarity.
Question: What is your best self-care tip while working on the front lines of the pandemic?
Kimberly Ortmayer, RN. Clinical Supervisor at Atrium Health's Levine Children's Hospital (Charlotte, N.C.): I personally have three self-care tips while working on the front lines of this pandemic.
First, I take 10 minutes after I park my car to just take some deep breaths and think of three positives in my life. This helps center and calm me before I walk into work.
Second, when I am off, I have at least one “no phone day,” as my 8-year-old daughter calls it.
Third, the Peloton [exercise bike]. I can just put my headphones on and for a short period of time I can just clear my mind and sweat it out.
Leigha Fallis, RN. Chief Nursing Officer at Piedmont Rockdale Hospital (Conyers, Ga.): My advice to nurses or healthcare staff is to always take good care of yourself first so that you can provide good care to your patients. It is always important to eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest, but this is even more important during this pandemic.
Kristin Christophersen, DNP, RN. Chief Nursing Officer at Fountain Valley (Calif.) Regional Hospital & Medical Center: The best self-care is to take time for yourself — to mentally and physically regroup. Nurses are not good at caring for themselves. We are givers and forget about ourselves. Self-care might be exercise, meditation or simply spending time with family.
My personal self-care is being with family on the beach (when it reopens!). The sound of the waves and bright sun remind me how in the anger of the surf, the calm always follows. And who can't be happy when there is a big bright sun smiling at you and giving warmth!
Jade Flinn, RN. Nurse Educator for the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine (Baltimore): The best self-care tip while working on the front lines is to know that is OK to not be OK I think we as nurses feel the need to stay strong and unwavering so as to keep up this “hero” image.
Although us standing resolute in the midst of crisis does give those around us a sense of security that someone has things under control, we must remember that we are still human. Our kryptonite may be hubris and our need to be anything and everything for our patients and team.
However, to be able to show up and give all of ourselves day in and day out, we have to be able to turn that inward and fill ourselves up. We must take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.
Tracy Stark, RN. Nurse at St. Luke's Health System (Boise, Idaho): I find that in any crisis situation it is a natural response to quickly do what you can to address the crisis.
In our situation here in the medical/surgical unit, I made sure I paused before acting, to take safety measures [into account] first. If I'm not safe, it's not going to help others or myself.
I realized that I wasn't paying attention to my basic needs:water, nutrition, rest and exercise.
I made sure I stayed hydrated by keeping a bottle of water nearby and made healthier food choices in snacking, even with the generous outpouring of food from the community.
I took the stairs instead of the elevators — part of my exercise routine — and got out in the fresh air every day after work.
Michelle Patch, PhD. Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (Baltimore): I find that stepping away and power walking, if only for five minutes, helps me clear my head and refocus on priorities: our patients, families and staff.
Also, humor is incredibly powerful and has really lifted me up during difficult moments.
Robyn Beall, RN. Nurse at St. Luke's Health System (Boise, Idaho): Take one minute to intentionally pull your shoulders back and take three to five deep breaths.
[This] resets my attitude.
Kristen Frost. Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission (Merriam, Kan.): I would encourage people to reach out for counseling services.
So often, people are too proud to ask for help with mental health and are concerned about the perceived stigmas that asking for help may carry. Nurses are always working to care for others but often forget to care for themselves.
Jessica (Danielle) Major, RN.
Nurse in the Medical/Surgical Unit at AdventHealth Hendersonville (N.C.): My best self-care tip while working on the front lines of the pandemic is to work outside in the yard.
Cheryl Connors, DNP, RN. Patient Safety Specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore): The best self-care tip while working on the front line is paying attention to your emotional, psychological and/or physical stress response. I do this by identifying how I am responding to stress.
Many of the feelings that have been showing up for me at various times include feeling sad, angry, anxious, tired, frustrated, agitated, scared and disengaged. Once the feeling appears, I find a space to acknowledge the feeling. I will do this with myself or with a colleague.
Once I acknowledge the feeling, I can apply a grounding strategy to help me relieve some stress.
Almost daily, I remind myself of my potential stress responses and the strategies that I find effective to help me address my stress. Some examples of grounding strategies are breathing and noticing what you feel as you take time to intentionally fill yourself with air. Breathing can help me get back to a state of less intense emotion.
My favorite strategy is to think about a resource in my life, such as my cat. She makes me feel so happy. Knowing that at the end of the day, I can go home and snuggle with her brings me comfort. I also look forward to having a cup of coffee on my porch in the morning.
Knowing that I can do that tomorrow floods me with feelings of joy and relaxation.
So, my self-care tip would be to pay attention to yourself. Identify your stress responses and accept them as normal. Then list some grounding strategies that you can use anywhere at any time to lessen your feelings of stress.
Monica Powers. Assistant Chief Nursing Officer at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission (Merriam, Kan.): In order to provide whole-person care during my time at work, I need to take time for myself.
It is amazing what a few minutes alone to breathe deeply, say a prayer or just listen to the birds outside can do for my mind. This small reset has been a daily necessity throughout this pandemic.
Taking advantage of these small moments helps me to be balanced at work and at home.
Thomasina Jones. Nursing Manager-Pediatrics Ambulatory Care at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): Reflect on the top three positive things that happened during the day while incorporating meditation.
Carolyn Hopper, RN. Administrative Director, Clinical Operations at AdventHealth Hendersonville (N.C.
): My advice is to take a few minutes each day to totally disconnect, whatever that means for you. We are all experiencing sensory overload, too much information, too much noise, too much communication. Find a quiet, calm space to unwind for a period of time and allow yourself to recenter and reconnect with yourself.
Stephanie Wise. Chief Nursing Officer at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission (Merriam, Kan.): To care for others, we must have enough energy left to fuel our own body, mind and spirit.
This requires a cognizant effort to provide our whole being with great self-care. For me, eating healthy, whole foods is extremely important to feel energized and ready to tackle a tough day.
It also assists with keeping our immune system working to its fullest potential and keeping the body healthy while fighting this pandemic.
Melissa Hughes, RN. Nurse in the Medical/Surgical Unit at AdventHealth Hendersonville (N.C.): My best self-care tip while working on the front lines of the pandemic is to walk, clean and work out in the garden.
Kelly Gilhousen. Clinical Nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): To offer each other grace. Everyone is dealing with this in a different way from a different perspective.
Nurse Manager in the Ambulatory Network at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): I've taken the time to look on Pinterest for new recipes since eating out at a restaurant is not an option.
I've found that many of my favorite restaurant dishes I can cook at home. I've lost a few pounds, and so has my family. We are excited about all the new recipes we have planned to try this summer.
Justine Dechiara, RN. Nurse in the Medical/Surgical Unit at AdventHealth Hendersonville (N.C.): My best self-care tip while working on the front lines of the pandemic is to run more, so you can be outside and get more fresh air.
Rachel Ogilby. Clinical Nurse Specialist-Critical Care at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up, and don't judge them.
Maybe you are feeling grateful that you have a job or that your family hasn't gotten sick. Maybe you are feeling worried or scared. You might be angry, feel guilty or saddened.
Know that all of these emotions are valid.
It's an emotional time for everyone, and it can be exhausting to have all of these feelings. Emotions surface in mysterious ways — you might be tired, cranky, weepy or have a shortened temper.
Allow yourself more rest than you normally would, and create time to do things you love even though the circumstances ly have changed.
Try not to pass judgment on yourself, and just be aware of the feelings you have as they come and go. You are awesome!
Kumarie Singh. Nurse Manager-Cancer Care at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): I limit television viewing and go for a walk or bike ride, or do yoga, baking — something fun — twice a week with my daughter. Also, I keep in touch with loved ones via FaceTime.
Julie Medas. Clinical Nurse Specialist-Neonatology at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): Walking outdoors! FaceTiming with loved ones, especially my daughter who lives in New York City, to see she is safe and healthy.
Matt Kuffel, RN. Nurse at Harrison Medical Center (Bremerton, Wash.): My best self-care tip is to make sure to stay active. I wake up and run every morning and find time daily to get outside in our yard with my kids.
I feel it's important for all of us to get outside and spend time off and away from screens.
Kevin Quick. Flight Nurse Specialist-Emergency Medicine at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): Do what you are trained to do without fear.
When off work, be off work mentally as well. Limit your news intake to one to two days a week.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program Coordinator-Forensic Nursing at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): Exercise! Just getting up and moving not only has many physical benefits but has done wonders for my mental health.
Being a forensic nurse during the pandemic, I have seen a lot of domestic violence cases. These cases are sometimes mentally draining. I have a Peloton and make an effort to ride three days a week for 30 minutes, which helps me relieve stress.
Subhneet Kaur, RN. Nurse at St. Joseph Medical Center (Tacoma, Wash.): During these stressful times, self-care is extremely important to help temporarily forget about the stressful challenges thrown at us every day at work. I recommend focusing on something you enjoy or find therapeutic.
I love helping my little girl explore the outdoors or taking her on short walks. I have also collected an abundance of indoor and outdoor plants that have kept me busy! And for the nights I have extra time, I love throwing on a new [face]mask, lighting a candle and bumping my favorite music.
With everything closed and no errands to run, my skin has been looking great!
Michelle Simonelli. Nurse Manager in the Ambulatory Network at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): My greatest gift that I can give to myself and others is to try to remain positive at all times. It is important to realize that each and every one of us has to remain strong: physically, mentally and emotionally.
Even though routines and schedules have changed, I try to appreciate what I have in life now and make the most of it. I have started to eat healthier, made some changes in my exercise routine, and I am trying to make sleep more of a priority than before. Socially connecting to my friends and family has increased, and that continues to put a big smile on my face each day!
Since I am able to ease my stress level by working on the above, I come to work daily on the front lines of the pandemic and try to spread my self-care tips with my staff, providers and my patients.
Tracy Greathouse, Nursing Professional Development Specialist at MetroHealth System (Cleveland): The No. 1 best self-care tip I can suggest is prayer.
Second is asking for help/support while at work to avoid burnout — and taking days off to allow mental breaks to promote self-care.
Unfortunately, there's not much to do during this pandemic, but you can still enjoy time off by spending time with family, having a self-made spa day, watching comedy movies and taking a walk or gardening and making home improvements.
More articles on nursing:
60% of nurses say organizations don't adequately support them through pandemic stressors: 6 survey findings
Nurses say changing guidelines, unsafe conditions are pushing them to quit
The backbone of healthcare: 3 CNOs on what COVID-19 has taught us about nursing
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Does an extra hour of sleep matter?
You’re probably sleep deprived and don’t even know it, experts say.
Sometimes, the difference between a productive day and time wasted can come down to an hour: an hour’s extra sleep, an hour’s exercise, or an hour’s deep work can have a profoundly positive impact on how you work and live.
Almost all of us do it. We get up early to go to the gym. We stay up too late responding to work emails. Or we end up bingeing on Netflix in bed.
Whatever it is, we often cut corners when it comes to sleep.
Yet if you want to kick 2019 off on a stronger, healthier note, you need to make more time for sleep. Because if you can squeeze in even an extra hour, it will almost certainly make you look better, feel better and be better at your job.
But an extra hour should be just the beginning, experts caution. The real benefits of sleep come from setting a personal, optimal sleeping schedule – and sticking to it no matter what.
A person sleeping during the day. But sticking to a consistent sleep schedule at night is the true road to being well-rested, experts say (Credit: Getty Images)
Why skimping matters
It turns out that the benefits of more sleep – and consistent sleep – are diverse and plentiful.
“You’re going to feel better, you’ll have more energy, you’ll have better ideas, you’ll contribute to your team or organisation in a better way,” says Rachel Salas, an associate professor of neurology who specialises in sleep medicine and sleep disorders at Johns Hopkins University in the US.
“Your mood’s going to be better, you’ll have better reason to engage and share ideas,” she says. It will also show on the outside – skimp on sleep and you may find yourself “gaining weight and looking tired with bags under your eyes”.
In 2013, the BBC partnered with the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre for an experiment that found an extra hour of sleep improved participants’ mental agility in computer tests.
But multiple studies make it clear that optimising sleep is about more than tacking on an extra hour. Sleep is crucial, not something to be squeezed in for convenience.
An American study last month showed that students who slept for eight hours a night performed better in final exams. One from the University of Michigan in October found that a lack of sleep affected memory and job performance in fields as varied as baking and surgery.
Another study found that two nights in a row of less than six hours’ sleep could make you sluggish for the next six days. And a Swedish study published this year which looked at over 40,000 participants for 13 years found that those who slept for short periods had higher mortality rates than those who don’t, especially among over-65s.
Most reasonable people already know that more sleep is good for them. The problem is that life – work, children, friends, fitness – often gets in the way. And since they’re able to function on a day-to-day basis, people end up underestimating the power of an extra hour.
Do you drive? A lack of sleep for you could prove deadly. It could result in “microsleeps”: sudden episodes of dosing off that lasts just a few seconds (Credit: Getty Images)
So you might get six hours a night – a little less than the UK average – and assume that’s all the sleep you need. But experts say that’s a big mistake. Sometimes, Salas says, people’s bad habits drag on so long they end up with accumulated health issues that eventually bring them to her sleep clinic.
Problems that appear over the long haul could be weight gain, migraines or constant fatigue. It could be sleep apnoea or even what she calls “microsleeps” – when your brain briefly shuts down during the day for just a few seconds, sometimes with your eyes open (an obvious danger to drivers, for example).
But what’s better: an extra hour of sleep or a consistent sleep schedule? Salas says ideally you should do both.
Reut Gruber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Sleep Lab at McGill University in Montreal, says while there is no magic number people should hit, there is a way people can work out how much sleep is right for them.
When you’re on holiday or have no commitments the next day, go to bed at a reasonable time and let yourself wake up naturally. Note how many hours you sleep: that number is your new nightly goal. Also note when you fall asleep and when you wake up. Those times are important.
“Once this [number] has been determined, stick to it no matter what,” says Gruber. “Schedule everything else so that it allows you to go to bed on time” and keep on the schedule at which your body naturally woke up.
Humans have internal body clocks that guide when we rest over a 24-hour period. Harmonising your sleep patterns with this schedule is key for real rest (Credit: Getty Images)
That may very well be an extra hour, but for many it could be longer. Experts say many people are sleep deprived and don’t even know it – if you’re sleeping for four hours a night, you’ll probably need the power of many more hours to function normally.
There are caveats, of course: choices during the day inform how well you’ll be able to sleep as you try this out for yourself. That means avoiding excessive coffee or alcohol, which could affect your body’s circadian rhythm – your internal clock that determines when you naturally fall asleep and wake up.
Gruber also says adults should aim for 150 minutes of good old-fashioned aerobic exercise a week to be able to get more rest. “It is a balancing act,” says Gruber. “In order to be healthy, one needs to be active.”
You may be surprised by how long you end up sleeping but, says Sigrid Veasey, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, “if you can sleep, you need the sleep”. People should “push out the Instagram time” and stick to the schedule, she says.
Salas tried it herself. “I just went to bed at eleven and woke up at seven, even on the weekends,” she says. “No naps. I was going to do it for two weeks. I remember after five days, it was so profound, I remember specifically thinking: ‘Wow, I hadn’t slept this well since middle school’.”
Respect your rhythm
Once you determine your natural sleep schedule, staying on track with that internal clock makes all the difference.
“Even if you get 10 hours of sleep, if it’s not in line with your circadian rhythm, you can actually function a sleep-deprived person,” says Salas. You can add an extra hour or more, but unless you’re scheduling it to sync with your natural sleep-and-rise times, you might not actually be getting a proper night’s rest.
“People have a very poor sense of judgment on how much sleep they need,” Veasey says. “Until you give yourself extra sleep and you think: ‘I’m flying through the day, getting things done, I’m more interested in people, I’m less moody, I can focus better.’”
If you still feel lethargic after you’ve started getting more sleep, experts say that could be the sign of a more pressing health issue. But improving your sleep is one of those huge health decisions that can give you the biggest “bang for your buck”, Salas says. “It’s one of those things that crosses all medical aspects and domains.”
Setting aside time to work out how much sleep your body needs – and sticking to it – could be one of the best investments you make. Being sharper on the job is great, but being alive is even better.
“People who are sleep deprived are getting into car wrecks. Could you imagine [having a] brain surgeon who’s sleep deprived?” Salas says. “That’s the difference between life and death.”
Bryan Lufkin is BBC Capital’s features writer. Follow him on @bryan_lufkin.
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