4. The Health Reporter
Name: James Hamblin
Title: Health Editor at The Atlantic and author of “If Our Bodies Could Talk”
Why they're interesting: A doctor-turned-writer with a sleep obsession
Only a few years ago, James Hamblin was a radiology resident, working 28-hour shifts and skimping on sleep. Then, after deciding to leave medicine, Hamblin became fanatical about getting his eight hours. Today, the doctor-turned-writer examines the beliefs and policies responsible for the sleep deprivation that, unlike many people, he's been able to put behind him.
“I think a lot of people are constantly mildly sleep-deprived and, until you are radically sleep-deprived, it’s hard to appreciate how important sleep is,” said Hamblin. “Going through it gave me perspective. I was in a pretty privileged position of being in medical training, and I still had no way around the system, and that made me very sympathetic to anyone who has to work these long shifts, or night shifts, or can’t afford a place in a quiet neighborhood where they can sleep through the night, or for any number of reasons, doesn’t have access to good sleep every night.”
Hamblin's insights on sleep deprivation during residency are relevant outside his own relationship with sleep. Debates over residents' shift schedules have waged on since the '80s. And five years ago, a 16-hour limit was implemented. But, as of this July, first-year residents will once again be subject to the 28-hour shifts Hamblin remembers well.
It’s not hard to guess how Hamblin feels about the impending change. (He's not a fan.) But, as in the rest of his work, Hamblin presents his position without being overly prescriptive or engaging in fear-mongering. In both his written stories and his video series, also called "If Our Bodies Could Talk," Hamblin comes across as open-minded and dorkily funny, but still authoritative, because, oh yeah, he’s a doctor.
“I’m very sensitive to trying not to scare people," said Hamblin. "When I’m writing about sleep deprivation, it’s less about preying on individual fears than trying to make people realize that there’s a need for change in modifying systems that would allow people to get better sleep. It's a delicate line, because [sleep deprivation] is serious, but, culturally, a lot of institutions don’t take it seriously — we reward people for staying at work all night, or coming in super early, and take it to mean they're dedicated to their job, when, a lot of times, it’s done at the cost of sleep. If it was another form of self-harm, and it was manifesting in a more acute injury, then we wouldn’t celebrate it."