Monday Mixtape – Labor Day Edition

In this issue: Covid Weddings, Sleeping Through a Pandemic, How Safe is Flying, the microCOVID Project, and How to Combat Loneliness.

Hey all, I’m writing this on a flight from LA to New York. I'm excited to be back in the city for the first time since December. I hear NYC has a more European vibe—fewer cars, more bikes.

My First Covid Wedding

On Saturday I went to a wedding at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, a beautiful hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 100 people were in attendance.

How do you have a wedding in a global pandemic?

The couple mandated Covid testing beforehand. They had guests get tested 5-7 days before the wedding. They held the ceremony and reception outdoors. They distributed personalized masks as wedding favors.

It felt almost like a normal wedding. There was dancing. Seats were spaced apart (e.g. 3-4 seats at a table that normally seats 10).

It’s a nice reminder that we can find safe, creative ways to come together and celebrate. (See my writing on how to do a quar pod and a pandemic road trip.)


Sleeping Through a Pandemic

“It's not time that heals all wounds. It's actually time during REM sleep and dreaming that provides this emotional convalescence.”

I listened to a podcast with Matthew Walker, Berkeley professor of neuroscience and author of Why We Sleep.

Walker shared three ways that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted sleep:

  1. Total sleep time has increased by 15 minutes per night in the US. People are sleeping more during the week without the same weekday obligations. Shifts in sleep schedules and anxiety are causing more social “jet lag” and reduced sleep quality.

  2. Timing of sleep: A study showed people are going to bed about 30 minutes later and waking up about 50 minutes later the next morning. Walker calls this “revenge of the night owls”: With the relaxation of work hours, night owls can sleep in harmony with their chronotype. (Your chronotype defines the times of day when you’re at maximum alertness and peak productivity.)

  3. Dreaming: People have reported more vivid dreams since the pandemic began. Walker explains:

If people are going to bed later and sleeping in later, it means they’re sleeping further into that REM-sleep rich window of the night, and REM sleep is associated with those rich hallucinogenic dreams that we experience.”

How Safe is Flying?

Last week I shared a new tool I created to calculate the health costs of flying. There have been very few documented cases of airplane transmission. Masks and HEPA filtration work.

The responses I got were fascinating. Some people have been flying during the pandemic with no issues. Others reported bad experiences and poor airline safety measures.

There's wide variation in how airlines are implementing and enforcing safety protocols. Airlines are getting crushed right now financially. To stay in business in competitive markets they'll need to convince people they're doing everything they can to maintain safety. 

The microCOVID Project

Last week I learned about the microCOVID project. It introduces a quantitative measure of theoretical risk to score activities like taking the train or having an outdoor dinner: 1 microCOVID = a one-in-a-million chance of getting COVID.

There’s a calculator for regular activities. It tells you that:

  • Going out to buy groceries is 20 microCOVIDs

  • Having a small party, indoors, with no masks is 3,000 microCOVIDs

  • A 30 minute commute on the train is 100-200 microCOVIDs

The calculator takes into account the virus prevalence where you live.

I might decide I have a risk-tolerance of 10,000 microCOVIDs per year (i.e. a 1% chance of contracting Covid per year). That is, I really don’t want to get Covid, but I’m also not prepared to never leave the house.

That gives me a budget of a little under 200 microCOVIDs per week. And I can measure my activities against that, taking into account not just personal risk but also community risk and public health.

(See chart below from XKCD for a more lighthearted approach to assessing both Covid and Non-Covid risk.)


Alain de Botton on Friendship and Loneliness

Finally, I’m sharing a quote from a podcast with writer and philosopher Alain de Botton:

“Life only gets more mysterious, scarier and less clear as we get older. This is why friendship is so important. We are extremely small creatures in a vast, turbulent universe. How are we ever going to get through this?

We talk about romantic love. What we really want within this envelope called romantic love is what we might call friendship—to understand, to be understood, to share our vulnerability, to show ourselves as we truly are, with people who have the complexity of mind and generosity of spirit to interpret us correctly and to see us as we would wish to be seen. This happens so seldom, and yet it’s such a deep longing.

If you offered us a choice between more money or more friends, most of us would take the friends. We know how important the friends are.

Friendship is integral to our mental well-being. Loneliness is far more likely where we’re going to end up. It’s another big theme of life. We’re all far lonelier than we want to admit that we are. There’s so much about us that’s not interesting enough or acceptable or of concern to those around us. We can’t get what we are across to others in our vicinity.

That’s why so many people want to become writers. Writing seems to offer the capacity that strangers, people even further away from us, can understand precious parts of us. Good luck with that project. It’s a fraught project, but the ambition is very beautiful, and sometimes it works.

Loneliness is endemic because the ability to share who we really are with another person is one of the rarest things in the universe.”

Until next week,

Daniel Zahler

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By Daniel Zahler

I’m Daniel, a healthcare and life sciences consultant based in Santa Monica, California. Every week I write an email newsletter with perspectives on health and wellness trends, and strategies & tactics on how to optimize cognitive, physical and emotional health.

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