Insomnia Treatments: Why Does No One Call 'Bullshit'?

I have a feed reader that is constantly scanning for stories about insomnia treatments, sleep science, new research and so on. Today, I had a chance to peek at my feed inbox for the first time in a while, and it was frustrating to the point of being upsetting.

My inbox is now filled with articles about insomnia treatments. And that's great news for someone who suffers with sleep issues, right? Except that thanks to our podcast, The Snooze Button, I've hung out with enough scientists and researchers to know that virtually all the offers are garbage. In fact, many of them go way beyond "really expensive garbage" and border on "snake oil".

Marketers sell ordinary products as revolutionary on a pretty routine basis. Coca-Cola was initially marketed as medicine. So were Corn Flakes. Not only that, so were waterbeds, fat-free yogurt and yes, even cigarettes. (You do know that fat-free yogurt is basically a scam, right?) Now, the same hucksters who peddled patent medicine are capitalizing on the insomnia / dementia bogeyman. They're using your fear to overwhelm your logic and invest in insomnia treatments that do more to relieve you of your money than your symptoms.

So why doesn't someone call "Bullshit"?

The answer lies in the loopholes.

For example, let's talk about the fat-free yogurt thing. After all, it's tangentially related to insomina treatments. I don't mean to burst your breakfast bubble, but while the "fat-free" claim on the label is probably accurate, it's up to you to read the ingredients. When you do, you'll see that to keep the yogurt thick - which was the fat's job - most manufacturers replace it with corn syrup. Yes, sugar. Sugar that your body will probably wind up storing as fat. So your fat-free yogurt might end up packing on more pounds than if you'd gone with that 9% Greek yogurt that's more like spackle.

How is that related to insomnia treatments? Easy.

It is technically accurate to say that it's easier to fall asleep if you're comfortable than if you're uncomfortable. It's technically accurate to say that you'll likely fall asleep faster if you're calm than if you're agitated. Furthermore, it's technically within the realm of possibility to say that if you're working to keep your circadian rhythms relatively consistent, you might end up with more positive outcomes in your sleep world.

That's why people who make mattresses, pyjamas, melatonin supplements and essential oils can run advertising promising you "the best sleep of your life". As a result, desperate insomniacs buy these products genuinely thinking of them as insomnia treatments.

Trouble is, there's little scientific evidence out there to buttress these dubious claims. Equally troubling is that the general public doesn't seem to have a universal definition of what "good sleep" even is. We perceive a great night's sleep as one where we don't remember being awake for long after our heads hit the pillow. Don't remember tossing and turning and waking up to use the bathroom? You had a good night's sleep, by most people's definitions.

When a mattress company promises "deep sleep", do they mean "deep sleep" by the clinical definition? Do they mean N3 sleep as measured by polysomnography? What's the data that supports the claim?

And the bigger question for me: Why does no one call them out and ask for the information?

Dirty little secret: An ad guy told me that his massive sleep industry company loves the show, but won't advertise on it. Why? Because we're kind of a "no bullshit" zone. He said they couldn't risk running ads on The Snooze Button because I might call out their product.

So here's what we're going to do going forward.

Since we won't be offending sponsors anyway, let's protect the audience instead. If you spot a product that claims to be an insomnia treatment, tell us. Email us at [email protected] with all the info you can find. We'll investigate the claim, and if necessary, ask some loud questions on social media.

Oh, and if you're a sleep professional? Especially a sleep professional with a following? Could you do us a favor and amplify those questions when we post 'em?


KNOPP Studios

Neil Hedley

Neil Hedley spent three decades helping people wake up as a morning radio host. Now, he's trying to help them sleep, after battling insomnia since the age of six. Neil is also a bestselling author, television personality, and runs a podcast production facility and advertising & content creation company on Vancouver Island.