Is This a Map of Insomnia or Trump Anxiety?

Or both?

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Mar 22 2017, 12:00pm

There's a new global insomnia map to waste your time looking at make you feel less alone while you're not sleeping. The map uses Twitter data from the last 24 hours to track people around the globe who are staying up all night, phones in hand. It searches for tweets with phrases like "can't sleep," in 17 of the world's most-spoken languages, then plots them geographically, each dot representing a cluster of sleepless tweeters in one region.

"The idea was created (because there wasn't) anything online that showed how many people are struggling to sleep," says a spokesperson for Hillarys, the UK-based blinds company that commissioned the map. Because Twitter us is suppressed in China and Russia, data for those countries is lower than it might be, he adds.

According to the data, the US is the most sleepless country—or at least the most sleepless country on Twitter—and the midwest is the best place to sleep within the US, or at least to neglect to share your insomnia on social media. The east and west coasts, especially near cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. and Miami, appear most lit up with tweeting insomniacs. Then again, that's also likely influenced by the fact that 60 percent of Americans in rural areas use social media, compared with 71 percent in suburban areas and 69 percent in urban areas, according to the Pew Research Center's data.

So the map may say more about Twitter users than it does about the general population. But Alon Avidan, professor of neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, says he wasn't surprised that people in the United States were staying up all night. He's seen insomnia increase significantly since that fateful night when Donald Trump won the electoral vote.

"I've seen a lot more patients than normal since the election," he says. "Whenever there are big political events and uncertainties in the country, people get excited, angry, happy, sad, and all of those emotions can keep them awake. It happened after 9/11 and other major political and global events, too."

Avidan isn't the first one to notice this trend. Journalist Lisa Belkin spoke to a host of blue-state residents about their Trump-induced insomnia for a Yahoo story last week. A new New York fashion designer, a software trainer who's battling cancer and worried about health insurance, a Boston education advocate—all of them told her they'd lost sleep after the election.

The insomnia map does show some correlation with whether a state voted for Trump or Hillary. In North Dakota, for instance, no one Tweeted about insomnia in the 24 hours before press time. The same went for South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, which all went to Trump in the election, and had no more than two glowing dots each in the past 24 hours.

The data on the insomnia map looks somewhat different from a 2004 study sponsored by Ambien, which used CDC data to identify the best and worst places to get sleep. Detroit, with its high rates of stress-inducing poverty, crime and divorce, ranked it as the worst place to sleep; this was also reflected on the current map. Cleveland and Nashville followed close behind in the 2004 study, but seem to be doing better now, at least based on the absence of glowing dots.

Post-election anxiety aside, Avidan said he also wasn't surprised that the Twitter map showed more people losing sleep in major cities. Cities in general are not just hotbeds of Trump anxiety; they're bad for sleep, too: Environmental triggers like light pollution and noises from sirens, airports or other people are all things that encourage the body to wake up and stay alert.

One recent study found that insomniacs who went camping had an easier time falling asleep when the sun went down because there weren't artificial lights keeping them awake. But it wasn't just the absence of city lights—they were out in the wilderness without electronics, Avidan points out. Computers, TVs, smartphones and the like produce so-called blue light, which delays the body's production and release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Plus, Avidan says, when people get on social media late at night, it's likely to stimulate them in ways that make sleep even more unattainable. "I tell people to read before bed, but it doesn't work if you read something that's stimulating or upsetting," he says. "Sometimes I find out that people are reading The Da Vinci Code or staying up until 4 AM reading a spy novel; what people really need before bed is something relatively boring. I like Smithsonian Magazine or National Geographic."

Not surprisingly, some data suggests people in cities that get more sleep on average are also happier. "Our researchers initially thought ... that an individual's financial security or the quality of an individual's relationships would have an overriding impact on one's happiness," researcher Bert Sperling wrote in a statement about the 2004 Ambien/CDC study. "However, the conclusion appears clear: Getting consistent restful sleep is strongly correlated to being happy and productive, and feeling healthy both mentally and emotionally."

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