Debullshitifying the "sleep science" industry: first up, sleeplessness and obesity

Chris from Sense About Science writes, "Had trouble sleeping recently? This week Ask for Evidence is turning its attention to the multitude of claims about sleep — how you should be doing it, what you should be wearing for it, what you should be doing it on. First up is Ben, who got the NHS to change the advice on its website after asking them for evidence about claims that not getting enough sleep could make you obese. (It turns out it's a little more nuanced than they first suggested)."

"More to come later this week with phone apps, herbal teas and even sales claims masquerading as health claims."

The NHS Choices website claimed that "Sleeping less can make you weigh more! Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day are 30% more likely to be obese than those who get nine hours or more of sleep" This seemed a little suspect as no data were provided to back up this claim, so I contacted NHS Choices to ask for evidence.

A Subject Matter Expert (SME) at NHS choices kindly directed me to two articles on this subject, here and here. "Great!" I thought, "I do enjoy data." But… after reading these articles I found no evidence to support the specific claim made on the NHS choices website, so I asked again.

I received a second email directing me to another study, but again, the evidence did not support the claim. We also checked with Prof. Jim Horne, an expert in sleep research from Loughborough University, who agreed that the claim above was not robust.

Obesity linked to not getting enough sleep?
[Ask For Evidence]

(Image: Insomnia, Jacob Stewart, CC-BY)