I completely understand how overwhelming the stories can be that we read and hear in the media. Only this morning I heard a news headline on the radio that claimed if you sleep in it’s not good for your health. When the actual story came on later in the bulletin, they reported that researchers had found that sleeping more than nine hours a day increased your rate of dying by 44%. My first thought was, there goes the weekend lie in on Saturday as I’ve now only got a 56% chance of waking up on Sunday morning!
Taken literally, this would be a normal assumption, but as a scientist I then thought, oh no, here we go again! I wasn’t being given the full facts on what was probably a perfectly legitimate study. For example, what was the sample size of sleepers-in versus early risers in the study? Would you need to sleep more than nine hours a day, seven days a week to have the same effect as that for someone who slept nine hours every Friday night, so they got their well-deserved sleep-in on Saturday morning?
And herein lies the problem …
The media regularly only has space to give us some of the facts and these are sometimes out of context. I’ve had personal experience of that one! I often hear other researchers claim they don’t even recognise their own research when it is reported in the media. Headlines are usually full of spin and over sensationalised, obviously to peak our curiosity and make us listen or want to read more. Did you know that it’s not the journalists themselves, but the editors who write these headlines? Of course these are old tactics to earn a greater audience or readership, that have changed little over time. We all want to know that coffee, red wine and chocolate are good for us, right?