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The results are in: If you live to learn, you'll learn to live.

Life, Learning, and Longevity

Those in search of reasons to stay in college need look no further. Those in search of an education need only a good night's sleep.

The Shape of Things to Come

A John Hopkins study found a pregnant woman with more than a high school diploma could accurately predict her baby's gender 70% of the time. Those with less education guessed correctly 43% of the time. The study was originally intended to put several old wives' tales to the test, as it has long been thought that how high or low a mother carries a baby (or the shape of mama's belly) could predict the gender. On top of the finding about education, another surprise discovery revealed predictions were more accurate when based on the woman's feelings or the dreams she'd had.

Once these bundles of joy are among us, what can we do to increase their chances of a long and happy life?

Be Cool – Stay in School

When Dr. Adriana Lleras-Muney was a Columbia University graduate student in 1999, she was looking for a topic for her doctoral dissertation in economics. She came across a 1969 paper wherein three economists had speculated the best way to improve health. Rather than invest in medical care, they advised one would do better to invest in education.

Dr. Lleras-Muney's prize-winning paper was the first intensive effort to determine if education played a significant role with regard to longevity. She completed the daunting task of studying the census and the laws dictating the number of hours children were to attend school over the past 100 years, and was surprised by what she found. By age 35, life expectancy was extended by about 18 months with just one extra year of education. The increase in longevity was exponential when more years of education were added.

Those whose thoughts, observations, and studies concur with Dr. Lleras-Muney's findings include Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, Michael Grossman, a health economist at the City University of New York, and Dr. James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation. They have all found education to be of more significance with regard to longevity than any other factor, including income, race, location, or whether or not one has health insurance.

Dr. Lleras-Muney's findings first appear to support the notion that wealth equals health. Wealthier people are statistically healthier and this is thought to be due, in large part, to their access to better healthcare. Other studies, however, have revealed no significant difference in the degree of health between rich and poor in those countries where everyone has health care. "All you have to do is look at the experience of countries like England that have had health insurance for more than 40 years,” Dr. Smith says. “There is no diminution in the class differentials. It’s been the same in Sweden. It’s true everywhere.”

Depending on where you live, an education can be expensive and time-consuming. For those without a lot of money or time, an entire industry was born to help close the gap. Unfortunately these get-smart-quick schemes are not only too good to be true, they're counterproductive.

Live and Learn, Not Sleep and Learn

Despite the growing trend of "learn while you sleep" products, the only positive to this approach is that it is positively a waste of money – and might even disturb your sleep. According to Dr. Jerome M. Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at the Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles, attempts to learn while sleeping hold no value because "the sound had to actually wake you before you would benefit. Even when you’re sleepy, but not asleep, you don’t learn very well.”

Dr. Michael J. Sateia, the head of the sleep disorders program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, agrees. He says the sleeping brain is not so suggestible. “Generally, sleep is considered to be a state of being relatively ‘offline,’ as it were, with respect to extrasensory input.”

Interest in subliminal sleep-learning was reawakened, if you will, by researchers at the University of Lübeck in Germany last year. They observed subjects with an improved ability to recall a string of words learned before sleep when the brain was gently stimulated with electrical current at a certain frequency during sleep. This is not the same as the concept of subliminal sleep-learning, and the connection between the two is labored at best. That hasn't stopped anyone from putting a lot of their money where their pillows are, as consumers spend as much as $400 for a set of tapes containing information they either can't learn or don't have time to learn when awake.

The average, middle-aged American doesn't get the recommended eight hours of sleep at night, opting instead for about 6.1 hours. While shortcuts may be tempting for those whose time is cut short, the most important and productive thing doctors suggest you do with your sleep is rest.

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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