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The Straight Dope


If you sleep too much, you don't feel refreshed; instead you feel sluggish, groggy, and generally disposed to more sleep. What is the scientific reason behind this?

--Mimi Thomas, via AOL

Glad you restricted me to the scientific reason, Mimi. Otherwise I'd fill the whole column with tawdry rumors, and God knows you don't want that.

More has been written about oversleeping in the medical journals than you might think. In 1969 sleep researchers John Taub and Ralph Berger gave the phenomenon (or one aspect of the phenomenon) a name: the Rip Van Winkle Effect, the experience of feeling bad after extended sleep (more than ten hours). Various studies by the above and other parties have established that:

1. Some people feel terrible after too much sleep, and their performance deteriorates. On the other hand,

2. Some people feel great. Always the way.
3. Experiments seemed to bear out the initial hypothesis that either too much or too little sleep would cause your mental state to crumble. But by the early '80s a few investigators had concluded that . . .

4. Oversleeping made people feel terrible if they'd previously had sufficient sleep, but it made them feel great if they'd previously been sleep-deprived. You have to wonder why it took twelve years to come up with this brainstorm. One can only guess that sleep researchers take a lot of naps.

5. Further research in 1985 found that "with or without a prior sleep debt, the subjects' alertness was either unchanged or improved after acute oversleeping. Furthermore, actually sleeping more proved to be better for subjectively reported mood and objectively measured alertness than simply lying in bed awake for the extra hours." In other words, the Rip Van Winkle Effect is a crock, and you don't really feel bad after oversleeping. You just think you do.

Attempting to salvage something from this fiasco, the sleep research community now offers such conjectures as the following: "People generally expect to feel better after getting a long night of sleep; their expectations may predict greater improvement than they actually obtain, in which case they feel worse" (Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming). Whoever wrote that was clearly feeling a little groggy. Probably got too much sleep.

How They Got Mister Ed to Talk: Take Two
In your discussion of how they got Mister Ed to talk in your book More of the Straight Dope, you cite actor Alan Young's claim that it was peanut butter stuck between Ed's cheek and gum. This is Mr. Young's stock answer. However, the enclosed video shows indisputable evidence that the "marionette theory" (i.e., Ed's handler pulled strings to make him talk) was at work at least some of the time. The video shows excerpts from a few episodes where the lighting and camera angle reveal the very visible nylon "bit" being pulled for each word Ed spoke. If you don't see the nylon under Ed's neck, then look for it running behind Ed, out of camera range. Some may claim that a nylon bit was needed in order to have Ed turn his head or perform some other movement without his trainer having to be in the camera shot, but the evidence is clear that the bit was also used when Ed was standing still and merely had to talk. Alan Young has every right not to reveal the whole truth about Ed's talking methods; it is the wonder and mystique of "how was it done?" that keeps the Mister Ed television series alive. I do think peanut butter may have been used some of the time, but though I am a great admirer of Mr. Young, I thought you should know he was not telling you the whole truth.

--Joseph Fox, Los Angeles

Huh. Well, it could be a nylon bit, I suppose. But I say it's dental floss to get rid of that damn peanut butter.

Cecil Adams can deliver the Straight Dope on any topic. Write Cecil at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611, or e-mail him at

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