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Sleep’s role in weight loss remains a mystery


3 Star

Sleep’s role in weight loss remains a mystery

Our Review Summary

The story should have connected its own dots. Why tell us that there’s no evidence supporting sleep interventions for weight loss, and then give us a prescription for sleep changes to help us lose weight?


Why This Matters

Judging the quality of evidence is critical. But the main reason to do it is to assess the quality of healthcare recommendations derived from that evidence.

Obesity is a major public health issue and any weight-loss interventions, particularly inexpensive behavioral ones, are valuable.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Costs are not directly relevant to the dynamics of sleep and weight, nor to the interventions described in the story.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Again, there are no interventional trials discussed, only biological studies of hormones, so benefits shouldn’t be relevant. But by passing along Aziz and Vorona’s recommendations, the author claims that these interventions have weight loss benefits. Those benefits are not quantified.

One could say that the benefits can’t be quantified because there are no studies. And that’s the point.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  Harms don’t seem to apply in this case.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story is puzzling. In the first half, the author is keen to evaluate the quality of evidence, providing strong caveats on several dimensions of the evidence base for this question. Then for some reason, in the second half it opens the corral to allow an alternative medicine physician and sleep researcher to prescribe readers detailed behavioral changes to help them lose weight. But the story just said there’s no evidence for such interventions. It even says that Michael Aziz is making a leap from the basic research, Robert Vorona has not even been able to conduct research on this question, and that Vorona is uncertain. Why question the evidence and then prescribe health changes that, we can only conclude, have no underlying evidence? The first half says that nobody knows if the recommendations in the second half do anything for weight loss.

That’s why we say the story should’ve connected its own dots. Perhaps the story could’ve gotten away with this structure IF it added caution to interpreting the recommendations based on the lack of evidence. But it didn’t.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There is no disease-mongering about obesity in the story.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The author cites three independent sources and identifies each of their affiliations. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There are no data presented on sleep extension and related approaches as interventions for weight loss. Thus it’s impossible to compare them to other interventions for weight loss. However, we give it a strike for one reason.

The story attempts to put sleep into some kind of context in the overall mechanism of obesity by ending on the sleep researcher’s caveat that he doesn’t believe sleep deprivation is the root cause of the obesity epidemic. But he suspects it’s "part of the picture, along with lack of exercise and dietary indiscretion." The story cites no evidence or study to support his suspicion. We have no idea how big or how small a part sleep makes up in that picture. No doubt, Vorona doesn’t know either. But he is still suggesting that sleep deprivation has a role in obesity. The vague point, without evidence or relative qualification, will for some readers elevate the role of sleep deprivation relative to the other contributing factors. 

It’s relevant because each factor is associated with a weight loss intervention, and diet and exercise interventions have a warehouse of studies behind them. A brief discussion about the roles of calorie restriction and exercise for long-term weight loss and maintenance would have put the role of sleep interventions in perspective for readers.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The criterion is not applicable. The story’s focus is on the connection between sleep and weight, and the lifestyle interventions mentioned are available to everyone.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story makes it clear this is not a new question, and that it reviewed "a handful of studies, including a 2008 analysis of the existing research on the subject of sleep and obesity."

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The article does not appear to rely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 7 Satisfactory


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