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Interpreting News Reports on Sleep Needs

Posted Oct 04 2010 9:32pm

How much sleep?

Just to add to the general confusion about scientific findings on sleep and other health issues there is a new sleep study that found that in women 6.5 hours sleep was a good predictor of survival to the 14 year follow up.  Recently I posted that a study that showed that men getting less than 8 hours sleep  were less likely to survive to the age of 65 than those who did get 8 hours.

Does this make you want to throw up your hands and declare you will just ignore the lot of them? If so that might be the best route to take, because you can’t base your life style around a newspaper or blog report of a single study. For a start you do not know enough about the study. With any study you need to look at the type of study conducted, how many subjects were studied, age group and gender.

You need to know whether the study was a meta analysis, that is was it a review of all the studies on the topic or a single new study. Other aspects of a study that are important are the variables that the researchers took into account when assessing results, the margin of error of the results, whether it was a double blind controlled trial or not, whether the  facts were measurable or were self reports.

The study I reported last which showed that men were more likely to die before aged 65 if they slept less than 8 hours a night used self reported sleep times, whereas this more recent study used scientific measurements  to gauge length of sleep. Which method do you think would be more accurate?

This is why I believe it is impossible to make any sensible decision about how to live based on such scantly information as a newspaper report of a study. Even though quite often the researchers interviewed will hand out such advice as if their study was the last word on the topic. If you have been bewildered by contradictory reports don’t be. Simply ignore them until more evidence is available.

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