You Are Getting Sleepy . . .

Last night while I was watching the Giants game (and no, I don’t want to talk at all about that 9th inning, especially after Lincecum pitched so well), I was also skimming through the Pulse app on my iPad to see if there was anything interesting in the collection of blogs I loosely follow. And sure enough, io9 had a piece I couldn’t resist at this time of year: “Can You Condition Your Body to Require Less Sleep?”

The sleep study this article discussed compared the effects of total sleep deprivation with sleep limitation, specifically to 4 hours or 6 hours of sleep per night over 14 days.

Wait a minute! That’s almost exactly what I’m about to do for Summer Nationals!

Happily, the io9 article includes a link to the original paper—here’s a bit from the abstract:

Conclusions: Since chronic restriction of sleep to 6 h or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to up to 2 nights of total sleep deprivation, it appears that even relatively moderate sleep restriction can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy adults. Sleepiness ratings suggest that subjects were largely unaware of these increasing cognitive deficits, which may explain why the impact of chronic sleep restriction on waking cognitive functions is often assumed to be benign.

It turns out that it’s not so much the lack of sleep itself that gets to us but the cumulative additional hours of wakefulness. So after several days of only 4 hours of sleep per night, you’ve got the same number of extra hours awake as someone who’s not slept at all for a couple of nights. It takes a few more days on 6 hours per night for the effects to hit the same level, but once you’ve added those extra hours of wakefulness to the cumulative total, it’s as though you’ve pulled 2 or 3 consecutive all-nighters.

And the kicker is that, unlike those who don’t sleep at all and normally feel like it, we limited sleepers are less aware of the effects. Although there is some awareness of feeling sleepier than usual for the first day or two, that wears off, so we think we’re acclimating to our sleep deficit. But we don’t adjust. The dire performance effects are still there—it’s just that the ability to notice we’re sleepy is one of those skills that are adversely affected, along with our other neurobehavioral functions.

This could explain why I’m never much bothered by the 3-hour time zone change.

 

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Numbers Games

A week or so ago, someone who didn’t know how USA Fencing Summer Nationals entries work might have been hopeful that the tournament would be—if not actually a reasonable size—somewhat less daunting than expected. At some point during that Friday, there were 6,221 individual and only 87 team entries.

I knew better.

Typically, around 40% of USFA tournament entries come in during the last week before the deadline, with a large final onslaught in the last few hours. (Despite explicit warnings, Railstation was insufficiently prepared for the rush, and crashed under the load Monday evening, so the deadline was extended to Thursday noon.) Uncharacteristically (I’m usually content to wait for the final numbers), I spent much of the weekend—and the following extra days—watching the numbers creep up in fits and starts. I wasn’t surprised that most of the Veteran numbers stayed where they were, as did most of the Youth numbers. The categories with the biggest increases toward the end? Junior, Cadet, Division I, and both Junior and Senior teams.

As of Thursday’s revised regular deadline, we had 8,984 individual entries and 310 team entries from 4299 people. That’s a bit of a jump from previous years:

SN 052214

(Downloadable pdf: SN 052214)

These numbers will change a little by the time we get to Columbus. A few entries haven’t been cleared because their eligibility hasn’t yet been confirmed. (Another good reason never to wait to the last possible moment to enter.) A few more will come in before the triple-fee late deadline this coming Monday. And there are always withdraws and no-shows at check-in. The final numbers will be somewhat smaller than we have now, but not by all that much— perhaps 200-400 fewer.

In the meantime, let’s break this current total down into a few interesting—if useless—factoids:

  • Smallest individual event: 5, Vet 70 Women’s Epee
  • Smallest team event: 9, Sr Women’s Saber
  • Largest individual event: 383, Jr Men’s Epee (followed by Jr Men’s Foil and Division I Men’s Epee, at 357 and 356, respectively)
  • Largest team event: 67, Jr Men’s Epee
  • Smallest category: 49, Vet 70
  • Largest category: 1627, Junior (more than any NAC of the 03-04 season)
  • Potential DE tables of 512: 3, (though no-shows could drop the Division I ME back to a nearly complete 256)
  • Y12 MF in 1999: 90; Y12 MF in 2014: 188
  • Y14 WS in 1999: 22; Y14 WS in 2014: 143

While I obsessed over the entry growth last weekend, I began to think that several categories of events were trending toward parity across all six weapons, that while men’s epee may still be an outlier for years to come, we may well have roughly even numbers among the other five weapons within the next quad. So one afternoon this week, I sat down, pulled up some statistics from past years, and created a whole raft of pie charts. What I expected to see was a progression something like this:

expected spread

(Blue=ME, Green=MF, Yellow=MS, Orange=WE, Red=WF, Purple=WS)

Turns out, not so much.

Vet 70 still looks a lot like the leftmost pie, but everything else seems to look randomly like any of the other three. Some years and some categories are more equal than others, but within that range, there’s not any obvious trend.  If you’re interested, you can take a look at the pdf I put together:

weapon spread

Ah, well. That’s enough avoidance behavior. Time to focus on making all these numbers work in Columbus next month.

Any bets on 10,000 for 2015?

Fun With Numbers

Every so often, and more often as Summer Nationals approaches, I think about the 1999 Summer Nationals in Charlotte, which was the first national tournament I attended, along with my older daughter, who—at 14, the age when fencers can easily do so—had qualified for half-a-dozen events. She’d qualified for the Cadet WS at that season’s JOs, too, but when informed that the JUnior Olympics were to be in Chattanooga, we laughed at the idea of traveling across the continent to compete in a single event. Little did we know.

Today, on a whim as I maintained my marginally obsessive watch over this year’s SN entry numbers, I decided to compare the numbers for the two years. I dug up the old 1999 numbers, and pulled the entry numbers for July as of about mid-day today, and made myself a little spreadsheet.

A few differences to keep in mind when comparing these two sets of entry numbers:

1. Youth-10 and Youth-12 were open events; kids didn’t even have to compete in an RYC.

2. The 1999 Junior and Cadet events were championships, rather than NACs, as now. Qualification beyond placement on the NRPS for Cadet (and Youth-14) was through division qualifiers, as now. For Juniors not on the NRPS, qualification was through the section junior championships, at least some of which required divisional qualification.

3. Veteran fencing was much smaller. Vet-70 did not yet exist, and many Veteran categories did not meet the 4-person minimum for holding individual events. Nor was there a Veteran team event. On the other hand, we no longer hold a Vet-Combined championship at SN.

4. Division I-A qualification is now through the ROCs; in 1999 it was through the section championships.

5. Back in 1999, team events had to be held the day after the individual event in that category, because those results were used for seeding the team events. This meant that BC staff were often up late into the night calculating team seedings (and this when competition days ran past 7:00 pm only two or three times during SN).

6. In 1999, the event equivalent to today’s Senior Team was called Open Team. Open Team was linked to the Division I-A results, where Senior Team was linked to the Division I championship results when those were held at SN rather than in April. Eventually, we all got confused by the names, so now they’re referred to as Senior Team and Division I Team.

7. Totals: The 1999 SN in Charlotte had 3306 individual and 150 team entries, fenced on around 48 strips over 10 days. The 2013 entries, as of around 11:30 this morning, were at 7442 individual and 419 team entries, to be fenced on at least 61 strips. (Depending on where the numbers end up at the end of the late registration period, we may need more strips.) We usually lose around 300-350 entries due to late withdrawals and no-shows, so it looks like we’ll end up with over 7,000 individual entries in Columbus.

I couldn’t resist adding a column showing this year’s entries as a percentage of the 1999 number for each event, just because three-digit percentages look so impressive.

Enjoy the numbers:

1999-2013 SN

Signs of Spring

Spring is well and truly here: blue skies, sunny days, green hills (not that “golden” of which my mother fumes, “They’re not golden! They’re dried-up brown!”), poppies and lupines, open windows, fresh air, sense of impending doom.

You didn’t really think this would be an ode to nature, did you?

Spring is the time for recruiting and hiring officials for Summer Nationals. Recruiting and hiring bout committee staff means poring* over the schedule and pondering how much larger this year’s entry numbers will be than last year’s, and trying my damnedest not to remember what SN feels like.

A decade ago, I’d wait anxiously for the email that told me to book my flight, that I’d been hired, that I’d get to run away and play for the whole noisy fantabulous ten days of fencers and coaches and parents and vendors and officials running amok within their concrete bunker. And once my flight was booked, the two months until the start of SN seemed like forever. My most frequent thought, looking forward to my annual SN excursion: “This is going to be so much fun!”

Now I’m the one who sends those emails, after I sort through everyone’s availability and figure out whether we even have enough staff to cover all the competition days. Some BC staff volunteer for all of SN, while others are only available for 5 or 6 days. Some compete and others have family or friends who are referees or armorers, so they need specific days off. It’s always a bit suspenseful charting it in a spreadsheet to see whether I have enough people for each day or they’re all clumped at one end or the other. And will I have the right mix of chairs and computer leads and data entry and table staff to make it work?

We had almost enough this year, and only had to do a bit of finagling to get the combination we needed to be sure all the necessary functions were covered. Though a surprising number of us are still masochistic enough to volunteer for the whole 10 days, more and more of the most experienced and capable staff—perhaps those who remember better than the rest of us from year to year what working SN is like—are available for only 5 days or not at all. Dread is not an emotion conducive to volunteer retention.

I can’t blame them. After all, I’m not entirely immune, with that pesky sense of impending doom. Instead of my former cheery anticipation, what will be running through my head off and on until I board my plane for Columbus will be something more like this (the relevant content is at 1:15).

I’ve been whining about the size and stress and challenge of our national tournaments for years now, and some people tell me that’s exactly what it is—whining—and that I should just stop, suck it up, and deal with it. (Dare I add, “like a good girl”?)

But those entry numbers keep going up and up, and the competition days keep getting longer and longer, and I keep thinking back to that article I posted about after the 2011 SN, in which I immediately recognized the symptoms SN causes in those of us who work it. I’ve read a bit about partial sleep deprivation since then (for instance, here and here), which has not relieved my concerns. Sleep deprivation affects different people to different degrees, but the consequences are real: more than 4 or 5 days with less than 6 hours of sleep can cause cognitive impairment equivalent to a .05-.10 blood alcohol content.

We do what we can to try to mitigate the effects of our cumulative sleep debt. The plane trip always starts the process for me—my typical 6:30 am (or earlier) departure means I have to get up at 2:30 or 3:00 am to get to the airport in time, and when I finally reach what airline people call my “ultimate destination,” my sense of time is so messed up that I’ve made the successful transition to what I always think of as Tournament Time, where it doesn’t matter what day or time it is but only where I need to be and what time the next event is supposed to start.

I try to track the progress of my cognitive impairments as they develop. Talking myself out loud through previously routine tasks usually starts around the fourth or fifth day, though some years it’s been earlier. Around the sixth or seventh day, I usually have to start thinking consciously about how to manipulate my lips and tongue and mouth in order to form the words I’m trying to say. Part of me is interested in trying to determine what my own personal BAC would be if I exhibited the same symptoms due to alcohol consumption, but unfortunately for that analysis, I’ve never been that drunk.

As tired as I may feel toward the end of a 14- to 16-hour day, I’ve learned that I need to make the next day’s strip plan on the previous evening, usually while the final 8 of the last event is fencing down to the gold medal. If I decide it’ll be easier in the morning when I’m more alert, I’ll usually be wrong. I’ll be better off with the extra half hour of sleep.

My condition is not unique. Look at the referee corral around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, and you’re likely to see unassigned but unreleased referees staring into space or napping with their heads on the table in front of them. Then think about the referees who are working, who’ve probably been working the whole day already and might have 3-5 more hours left before they’re done for the day. Standing, signaling calls, focusing on actions, coping with athletes and coaches and parents—sore muscles, achy joints, tired brains, testy moods. Cognitive deficits? We don’t allow referees to consume alcohol while they’re working, but we let them work while suffering from the same symptoms excessive alcohol consumption would cause.

Or take a look at the trainers’ clientele every so often. They handle a constant stream of fencers in need of ice or taping or stretching, punctuated by emergency calls out to strips, and they  treat a lot of referees, too, keeping them on their feet and functioning. Might our long competition days adversely affect our trainers’ skills and judgment, too?

Are we really serving the best interests of our athletes?

How did we reach a point where 14- to 16-hour competition days are considered even remotely acceptable?

This is wrong. We need to change it.

* I can’t use that word now without giggling (and more weirdly, worrying about my coffee), and we know whose fault that is, don’t we, Peach?