The Hidden Advertising Truth

Surely you have come across one of those unbelievable ads of how to lose weight in your sleep. One tends to see one of those six-pack stomachs snoozing and a voice in the in-off tells you that this is how you’re going to look when taking Dr. Fartys Wonderpills. I always find these things an assault to human intelligence and wonder genuinely how anybody can believe such rubbish. Until..

Scientific studies have shown that insufficient sleep affects hormonal responses to caloric restriction (which is an elegant scientific term for trying to lose weight by eating less). Ten overweight middle-aged adults, whose caloric intake was restricted, were assigned to 5.5 or 8.5 hours of sleep per night for 14 days. Later on, they were crossed over to the other sleep schedule for another 14 days.

Fat loss, fat-free body mass and several hormonal parameters were monitored. At the study’s end, mean weight loss with each treatment was about 3 kg. However, people who slept for 8,5 hours lost 56% of that weight as fat, whereas people who slept for 5,5 hours lost only 2 % of weight as fat. In addition, sleep-deprived participants had lower metabolic rates whilst resting (that means, burning fewer calories when not doing anything), lower adrenalin levels and they reported greater hunger (ANN Intern Med 2010 Oct 5;153:435).

Looking at these results, I do beg to be forgiven for being such an doubting Thomas. Even though I do still find it a somewhat unusual marketing for a sleeping pill.

But back to non-marketed real life, which does still occur and requires some decision taking now and then. Sleeping pills have a bad press, similar to cortisone, which seems a result of a certain overuse (on prescription, no doubt!) in the past. But there are a lot of situations where a sensible use is possible and responsible. With (only a little bit) tongue in cheek I do inform patients sometimes, that cortisone is a more natural treatment than what Aspirin is, or a high-dose-vitamin C-pill. Cortisone is a natural hormone produced in our adrenal glands and if this production ceases, we’re very dead within three days. One cannot say the same of Aspirin or Vitamin C.

Similarly sleeping pills seem to be the preferred substance to get dependent on.

Does one become dependent on a crutch after having broken or sprained one’s ankle? If you share my opinion that this would be rather unlikely, then do believe my affirmation that there is hardly any difference between a crutch and a modern sleeping pill. Both can be used safely over a certain limited period of time. I cannot see why it should be healthier to be grumpy, unable to concentrate and possibly even putting on weight because of poor sleep. This is not trying to say, that one cannot get dependent on sleeping pills – one surely can. But this requires a certain pre-disposition and personality, which a doctor will be able to detect. Sleeping pills and cortisone have as many sensible uses as herbs or diets.

I specifically would like to thank all contributors of the above-mentioned, idiotic, TV advert.

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