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You Can't Trust Sleep Advice Found on YouTube: Study
  • Posted February 28, 2023

You Can't Trust Sleep Advice Found on YouTube: Study

If you're struggling to find ways to get a good night's sleep, you may not want to use YouTube videos as a resource.

Researchers found what they described as an alarming amount of medical misinformation in YouTube videos about sleep disorders.

"What's tricky is that so much of health information is very nuanced, and a lot of popular YouTube videos have clickbait and appeal to shorter attention spans," said lead study author Rebecca Robbins. She is an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and investigator in the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston.

"People today often want very bite-sized pieces of information. However, science is fundamentally more nuanced than a one-liner or the 280 characters in a Twitter post," Robbins explained in a hospital news release.

More than 60% of U.S. adults say they used the internet to find health information, the study authors noted.

To learn what they might find there, the investigators searched YouTube using terms such as “insomnia” and “sleep tips.” They sorted videos by views, labeling those with the most views as “popular.”

The researchers then compared these popular videos to ones from credible sources. These were identified by a YouTube feature that places content from health care systems at the top of search results for health-related terms.

Sleep experts then assessed the quality of information, using various health communications assessment tools.

The findings showed that 43% of videos that got the highest number of views were made by bloggers; 33% were produced by medical professionals; and 24% by health coaches.

Popular videos averaged 8.2 million views, while those led by experts received 300,000 views.

About 67% of the popular videos contained commercial bias or promoted a product or service, compared to none of the expert-led videos, the study team reported.

Expert-led and popular videos were equally easy to understand.

It's not clear why consumers seek sleep health information from bloggers over that from sleep experts. It may be the content creators' ability to produce media that is engaging, aesthetically appealing and relatable to viewers, the authors suggested.

“Medical misinformation, including what's found in some videos about sleep disorders, can lead to patients avoiding care or receiving the wrong care and can be detrimental to patient outcomes,” said senior study author Dr. Stuart Quan, clinical chief and medical director of the Brigham's Sleep Disorders Service. "Sleep medicine is not immune to this issue."

What's popular is always changing, the researchers noted. While the study focused on YouTube, the investigators hope to look at other social media platforms as well, including Instagram and TikTok.

The researchers said they hope platforms such as YouTube will continue to seek creative ways to partner with health professionals to combat misinformation.

The study findings were published online recently in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on sleep disorders.

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, Feb. 27, 2023

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