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“Why We Sleep” Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors (guzey.com)
159 points by azizsaya on Nov 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 58 comments

That's interesting, but when reading the book my takeaways weren't really whether some cancer risks doubles or so.

They were

* what are REM/NREM, light and deep NREM sleep for?

* some fascinating study about lucid dreaming

* effects of coffein and sleep medication

* sleep hygiene tips

* some other things I can't recall right now

Yes, you can read about these things elsewhere, too, but I still think the book is a tremendous introduction to the subject.

But I don't have an academic interest in the subject, so the criticisms in the article do not matter much to me (except for some uneasy feeling about accuracy in general). If you're a student of medicine, cognitive sciences or whatever, you should probably get your introduction elsewhere anyway.

The criticisms should matter to you!

Why do you believe that his representation of research on REM/NREM, light and deep NREM sleep is scientifically accurate?

Why do you believe his representation of effects of coffein and sleep medication is scientifically accurate?

I cover this in sections 14.3 and 14.4: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/#appendix-common-object...

I don't know why you were flagged, but I vouched you. You're absolutely right that demonstrating egregious errors in one part should necessarily cause one to not take the other parts at face value, aka Michael Crichton's ever-popular Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.

i heard about Gell-Mann from some reverential source, and was very tickled to check wikipedia and discover that it is thusly named because "because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have". the trolling is delicious.

Thank you so much for this article.

I read his book and one of the points he made was you could never "make up" missing sleep.

For example, if you pulled an all nighter, you couldn't make it up the next few days if you slept more. Basically the health effects of missing a day of sleep would affect you for the rest of your life.

That was a quite shocking. Were you able to find any information on whether he was exaggerating this?

I didn't look into this in particular but my impression from reading the literature is that this makes zero sense.

That was one of the things that confused the hell out of me as well.

This, and exactly this!

It doesn't matter if some of the information is correct - once untrue things are peppered in, all facts from the source are suspect and who knows which incorrect facts your brain has.

Speaking for me, I believe Matthew Walker because he's been working in the field for almost twenty years, has published numerous peer-reviewed papers, etc. (Not that I believe everything but by default he gets a huge amount of credibility from me.)

You've clearly put a lot of time into your research as your post cites. But you don't have twenty years experience in the field. Why should we believe your analysis? Your criticisms could also be tangential or taking things out of context.

You can start with checking my Section 4 of the essay.

You're making a hell of a lot out of something that could be a mis-memory or easily explained. Either way, he's still the person with two decades of experience in the field, and as near as I can tell you're not. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You and the parent poster spell caffeine as coffein. Is that an alternative spelling, or was it a joke?

It's the German word (well, Koffein, really). I do know the English word, but every now and then something gets through.

oops, I just mirrored the OP's spelling without thinking.

If I could summarize "Why We Sleep" in a single sentence though it would be:

"Sleep or you will die"

That grabs readers' attention. While the hyperbolic tone of the book can be justified given that sleep is so misunderstood ... it does invite skepticism at the same time so I appreciate that the author of this article has done such a thorough lookup.

-- edited for clarity

Could you point me to at least one hyperbole in my text?

My apologies - I was referring to the book's hyperbolic tone not your article. The book is a nice enough summary of the current state of sleep research but its tone wasn't as balanced as I would have liked and I'm not surprised that some of the references are specious at best.

Thanks for the write up. I enjoyed reading through it.

I believe they were talking about the book's hyperbole, not yours. Though I don't agree with or really understand the basis for their decision that spreading FUD is ok if the subject is widely misunderstood.

Thank you for this.

I am very disappointed in Matthew Walker. In fact, if I were working in the same field as him, these findings would cast a doubt on most of his other work. The density of the errors almost makes me unsure which is worse: the errors are unintentional due to carelessness or they are deliberate to create a better sounding story. (Of course, the latter is worse as it is basically academic fraud.)

I believe there should be more books that are scientifically sound, yet accessible to most people. I thought this was one such book, but alas.

You might enjoy the section where I cover a little bit of his academic work, in case you missed it: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/#appendix-but-this-is-j... :)

Thank you! I was turned off even earlier by the glaring 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' logic error on the very first page of the text.

Quoting from the second paragraph, following a load of claims of the maladies that come from lack of sleep:

"Fitting Charlotte Bronte's prophetic wisdom that a 'ruffled mind makes a restless pillow', sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions..."

It is plain that Charlotte Bronte was inferring psychiatric conditions lead to sleep disruption, not the other way around.

Thanks! Yes, your quote is another good example of the book's level of argumentation. Not going to include this because I get too many "nitpicking" charges against me already :)

Wow. I’ve never read the book but it’s crazy something like that would be on the very first page

This sparks an idea... what if there was a tool that crawled all academic studies’ sources. Basically allowing you to see the root source of every cited study back to square one. Would make it much easier to discover studies based on a pyramid of weaker/wrong studies.

This is fun to do, but you’ll rapidly find that the academic sources don’t even say what they claim to.

The foundations of modern science seem to be quite shaky...

Nothing is stopping anyone with access to the SciHub corpus from doing this.

It would be useful. You'd also hit a new paywall for each journal, and the tool would end up costing thousands of dollars for anyone to use. You could of course I terrace with scihub, imo one of the most important tools in the last 20 years, but then you can't build a business on it

Although you could infer bad studies by citations, external criticisms etc, ultimately wouldn’t you have to look at the content of the studies themselves? The ubiquitous paywalls in online academic repos seems like a big obstacle to this.

Thanks for this.

'Why we Sleep' was one of the books I was reading before reading your analysis, and you saved me from wasting any more time on that obviously inaccurate load of hyperbole.

More importantly, you saved me from wasting even more time trying to apply any of the advice by what seems to be sensationalism passing off as science (and maybe even jeopardising my health in the process).

the meta-analysis of this, tho, is how we can apply this level of rigor/accountability to all pop sci books, or is it complete bunkum at this point.

i mean guzey sounds meticulous enough but i dont even know enough to know if they are full of crap

Even after reading the article, I still believe, in general, more sleep is better for you. I'll continue to strive for 8 hours a night. I would still assume the majority of Americans aren't getting enough sleep.

Maybe this does help the feelings of "If I don't get enough sleep I am going to die young" that some may come away with after reading the book. Overall, I'd still recommend the book.

Also, who is "Big Sleep" that is mentioned at the end of the article? Mattress companies?

Would like to see the author’s rebuttal, if he does decide to rebut.

Would be interesting if they were both on the Joe Rogan Podcast and had a debate.

The article before this one tho: https://guzey.com/fiction/hntop1

This is actually hilarious because the sleep essay (this submission) was starting to take off, was clearly going to hit the front page, and then it got flagged! By the time it got unflagged by the moderators, it disappeared from the "new" page and by some miracle did not get completely lost..

> I would probably give up a year of sex just to have this feeling again.

wow idk about you but thats a poor trade in my book

> No, not every living creature generates a circadian rhythm

> This is false. Brewer’s yeast (S. cerevisiae)

I don’t think most people would consider yeast a “creature“

Do you think most people know that Brewer's yeast is alive?

Probably not. However, pointing out what many may consider a minor falsehood could set yourself for an easy counter.

If Walker wanted to discredit your essay. He could give a sound bite like:

“Ok, yes, yeast. You’re right, but that’s not something most people consider relevant to sleeping rhythms. Haha. The essay is nitpicking minor technicalities but on a whole my research is unblemished.”

If I were his PR rep, I’d advise as such. You’re essay is too good to be vulnerable like that.

I'm not sure if this is relevant. The point about Brewer's yeast is literally in the last appendix, here: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/#appendix I do agree that this is a minor point and included this mostly out of curiosity.

Taken in light of the existence of the glymphatic system, a robust mechanism of clearance activated by slow wave sleep, what is more likely... misfolded protein accumulation is incidental to the loss of sleep during the course of fatal familial insomnia or loss of sleep is incidental to what is actually a disease of misfolded proteins?

That's a lot of errors, and he only examined Chapter 1 of "Why we Sleep".

Walker comes out looking like a charlatan.

Thank you for this. I've been skeptical about Matthew since his association with Hello, the failed sleep gadget startup. This really drives home what a salesman he is. Id like to think there will be consequences...but I doubt it.

Unfortunately, I trusted the author's UC Berkeley pedigree. I thought, "if the facts in this book weren't true, his academic colleagues would make him an academic pariah."

I need to tune up my BS detector. Trust, but verify.

Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I am curious to see if Matthew Walker replies.

Thank you so much for this article!

I usually have a lot of trouble sleeping and was panicking after I read the book. The side effects of not sleeping did seem kind of exaggerated, but glad to know someone actually took the time to corroborate all the claims.

Pedantry note: corroborate claims is exactly what this article did not do. Maybe you had a thinko or left out a word, I certainly that from time to time, but alternately maybe you want to look up what the fancy word means.


(Maybe you're just sleep deprived! (I kid, I kid))

Thank you Alexey for this great article. I was actually in the process of reading the book.

I would be very interested in an analysis of the scientific and factual accuracies in the rest of the book.

The faux disclaimer at the start that “discourages” using SciHub to access the paywalled articles was a nice touch to an otherwise excellent read

> Walker’s book has likely wasted thousands of hours of life and worsened the health of people who read it

How has it worsened the health of people?

Thank you for this public service! I feel duped now after reading 1/3 of the book.

Wow.....super disappointed to say the least. I actually bought the audiobook the other month and was looking to listening to it. I really enjoyed his episode on Joe Rogan and was the only one I've ever listened to twice. I don't understand why he would make up facts like fabricating statements from WHO? These are amateur mistakes a smart man doesn't make, which I'm sure Walker is (?). I haven't even finished reading this article but this part stood out:

"Walker’s book has likely wasted thousands of hours of life and worsened the health of people who read it and took its recommendations at face value."

First part is dubious but second part, seriously? How can extra of sleep "worsen" the health of people?

See Section 2: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/#no-a-good-night-s-slee...

People for whom sleep deprivation therapy would be helpful but who decide to avoid it due to Walker will have their health worsened by the book.

For a bit more speculative answer to this, see Section 14.1: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/#appendix-common-object...

As per the person you quoted, you can't equivocate a good night's sleep with "worsening someone's health" just because said person might alleviate depressive symptoms with deprivation therapy. Those are not the same things. Add to that, said restriction is not intended to be perpetual.

There are good points in your analysis but shall we discount yours entirely as well for faults such as these?

"worsening someone's health" refers to not getting therapy you need, based on Walker's misrepresentation. I believe this is exactly what I wrote in the comment you were responding to.

I'm saying that's wrong.

There are measures to alleviate depression beyond sleep restriction, including therapy, e.g. CBT, shown to be highly effective. A case of one not being prescribed a brand of experimental therapy like sleep restriction is not tantamount to withholding therapy "someone needs".

If that were the case you ought to hold the vast majority of psychiatrists to that standard who opt to prescribe a cocktail of medication, not sleep restriction, which is comparatively uncommon as a first measure.

And most importantly, because in such a scenario that sleep deprivation were to be prescribed, it would not necessarily be eschewed over a fear of the health effects of sleep deprivation in the short-term, a fear strongly presumed to supplant for your point to stand. It's not uncommon for patients to consume medications with negative side-effects, such as those that cause liver, kidney damage.

By the same token, being underslept makes you feel like shit, makes it difficult to focus, increases the risk of injury at work, on the road, etc.

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