Neutralise Them

The last few times I’ve been to the Amazon homepage there’s been an image by the Launchpad section that intrigued me as I didn’t know what the object was and it looked as though it was cool tech. I was initially quite excited when the launchpad started because it seemed a good thing – plenty of tech solutions to mundane problems – but now it just seems to be an area of the store for products which don’t really do anything different to the items elsewhere. The early excitement left me pretty quickly as the Launchpad filled with the mundane.

What Is It?
What Is It?

Clicking on this image just took me to the Launchpad homepage which I then browsed but found nothing interesting. Maybe that is the purpose of the image. Getting people like me to browse new areas of the website so that I end up buying something. It’s been about a week of seeing this image and so I have finally given a little more effort into browsing to see what it is.

It turns out this thing is a sleep aid device. I will try and avoid using brand names but I will link to the product website once. According to the Amazon information this device has a metronome light that will help you fall asleep naturally 2.5 times faster than normal [average]. Apparently lots of people use it. Other information on the product description has science words with a photograph of a doctor and a description that you align your breathing with the light emitted and this will bring your body into a natural sleep condition. My interest was piqued. My default mode is scepticism and while I’m not dismissing their claims I am going to cover some of the red flags. I hope that towards the end of this article I will find evidence that the product works well.

Problematic Claims

Listing the claims made on their website with comment.

76% positive reviews – those who thought this product worked bothered to let the company know that this product worked in their opinion.

2.5 x faster – people claim that the time taken to fall asleep has dropped by 61%. People are terrible judges at what really happens. That’s why we have developed the scientific method. I will look for a published peer reviewed paper to see if the claims can be backed up.

100 days money back guarantee – This, may at first, seem like an honest option for a company to offer. If this doesn’t work then send it back. In reality this is using a human memory trick to appear honest but people forget that they bought something or have the chance to send it back. This is common among devices that don’t work. How often have you bought a TV and Sony say, hey if you don’t like it return it after three months and we’ll refund you.

Testimonials – user testimonials are a problem, especially for medical / health devices. People don’t know what works. We need a scientific method to investigate these things. Just think how many people you know who use acupuncture / chiropractic / osteopathy when all the science evidence is none of them work. User testimonials are a problem.

Already in excess of 500,000 users – this is an appeal to popularity. If we’ve sold this many then it must work. This is not true. If you remember Mr Blobby was the Christmas number one a while ago and that song was utter shit.

Scary Graphic
Scary Graphic

This is an amazing graphic. Look at all the details. Sleeping pills cause death. Yoga costs money. Therapy is good but expensive. This product is the best, natural and cheap, doesn’t take much time and green which is definitely the best. Also, the number of stars increases to the best product which is the breathing light. This is amazing. Such balls to design this.

The whole front page of their website is full of lovely modern graphics with plenty of advice and explanation. Whether this is true or works is something I will investigate but it’s worth noting that so far nothing I have seen really strikes me as anything other than “all the comments on our website are this works”.

Who Is This For?

The page on the website which covers who can use the device mentions almost everyone. Therefore everyone is free to buy this product with the knowledge that it will help to improve their sleep patterns. The list is:

  • Chronic insomnia
  • Night awakenings
  • Stressful life
  • Thoughts running through your head
  • Daily or one-off troubles
  • Insomnia and pregnancy
  • Noisy environment

So, as you see. It works for everyone. We all have times when sleeping is difficult. We all have lives that seem stressful. We all struggle at times. In part, that is the human condition. So, this product could help everyone.

Science Stuff

The science page is pretty well written compared to many such sites I have seen. They make claims along the way. At the beginning the company explains that sleep deprivation can be caused by autonomic nervous system disorders and there’s a link to a published academic paper. This study was performed on 11 insomniacs, not a great number of people. There was a control group which is a good thing. The outcome of this is that to help insomniacs there should be an aim to reduce emotional arousal along with methods for improving sleep. Nothing about how to do that yet.

The next linked study performed on just 8 people seems to suggest the same thing: “These results support the aetiological hypothesis of physiological hyperarousal underlying primary insomnia.” So far these two studies don’t really say anything about this product. All they say is that being stressed/emotional could lead to insomnia. There are three more studies link on the “why” section of the science page and my favourite is the last one which tries to link acupuncture as a treatment for insomnia: “Our review indicates the necessity for further research in the relationship between the effects of acupuncture on insomnia and autonomic regulation, which might guide better selective use of this treatment modality for insomnia.” What this study doesn’t do is say it works. What the study says is that more study is needed. This is precisely the method used by TCM proponents when they find no link in their results. They just say that more study is needed.

The next few parts on the science page try to link breathing to emotional state, which seems fair. They then take the view that this will help sleep, which initially seems fair. There’s a link to a study which has around 40 participants, which is still pretty low, especially once you split them into different treatment wings. So, they asked people to breath at a rate of six breathes per minute and then recorded they blood pressure after five minutes. Would you believe it? After five minutes of being told to relax the participants were relaxed. Wow! How this links to a stressful life I’m not sure yet. All we’ve established is that slowing your breathing can help you feel relaxed. We’ve also established with some poor quality studies that being relaxed helps you sleep.

Next is a link to a study that says concentration can help you sleep. This study is from 1974. I’m not saying it’s wrong but when the last sleep/concentration study you can find is from nearly fifty years ago then maybe you need some more investigative work. Science has moved on since then and we have corrected a lot of the early work. There are a few more links to different studies through the last few paragraphs and there are some amazing charts but none of this so far has convinced me. The science page concludes:

Dodow tackles one of the main obstacles to achieving a sound sleep. It is easy to use, harmless, non-addictive, affordable at can be used at any time of night. Our goal is to democratize its use and create a solution referenced by physicians.

Dodow Site

Easy to use, harmless, non-addictive, affordable at can be used at any time of night” all these are red flags. These are warnings that it’s possible it doesn’t work. Do you know what sort of things have zero side effects? Things that don’t work. “Affordable” is relative. £50 seems like quite a bit of money to me. But if I was struggling to sleep then I would probably think it’s worth it. Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing. I was suffering from poor sleep last November. This device wouldn’t have helped because my sleep issues were caused by stress. I had to sort out the causes of the stress. This is not easy. A blue light to stare at seems easy.

The People
The People

There are lots of other pages under the heading of “blog” which gives plenty of reasons why certain types of people should buy this product. I’m not going through all of them. But I did see the above graphic which tells us about the people who started this company. Greg is, apparently, rational and studied at Stamford. Nice appeal to authority of education there. Gui is into mystic shit and worked for a massive company and so must be ok. Pierre found that he had trouble sleeping because he was thinking too much, he’s emotionally invested in such a cure for sleep. Alex cured his insomnia with yoga, not this system. Look how “respectable” they appear – young, white, intelligent. There is a problem with society when you look at these people and think “oh, they must know what they are doing”.

The Doctor

Dr. David O’Hare has his picture on the science page and is apparently a specialist in cardiac coherence. Whether this doctor has any financial connections to this company I do not know. I tried to Google this person. There were only responses on the French Wikipedia page about cardiac coherence and so I looked at that. My French isn’t great and so thanks to a live web-page Google translate I was able to read this section. The very first paragraph on this web-page explains that this heart coherence technique is founded on poor studies and is considered pseudoscience. This means there isn’t really any good scientific evidence to back the claims that are made.

 the effectiveness of cardiac coherence is not recognized: AFIS, which fights against scientific disinformation, considers it as a pseudo-science among others and denounces its promotion

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coh%C3%A9rence_cardiaque

So, it took a little digging. But we eventually got to the point where we know that the doctor recommending this product on their page promotes a modality considered pseudoscience and shouldn’t be promoted. There isn’t evidence to suggest his area of study is true. When your product is backed by someone who makes money from something that doesn’t work you have to question the validity of all the claims on the website and about the product.

My Conclusion

In this communication I have investigated what looked like a pretty cool product for sale on Amazon launchpad. I wasn’t sure what it was at first but it looked cool, although a dust trap. This device is meant to help you sleep and all the claims it makes are plausible. They have lots of science words and diagrams and seem to be endorsed by a doctor. The content of their claims had red flags, the sort of thing that is common with lots of products that don’t really work. So, I investigated this product. I looked at the red flags and the information on their website. I have concluded that it is unlikely that this device does what it claims. While it seems plausible all the evidence go to show that it is unlikely to do what it says. If I have problems sleeping in the future I won’t be heading to buy this device I will use one of the more proven methods for aiding sleep. These are harder and take more time but will have longer last real effects.

A side discussion would be whether Amazon should stock this product or have it on their website. My initial thought would be that they should not. A company should promote things which do not work. A quick search for homoeopathy on the site provides many results and homoeopathy is the most ridiculous of all bullshit non-medical treatments. Currently Amazon is a platform for people to sell their stuff. It’s almost like eBay in some cases and selling items with vague claims isn’t illegal. I mean there are loads of osteopathic practices around where I live. So, morally, I think Amazon should not have these products. But it is up to them I guess. It’s also impossible to police if they maintain their current model. Much like Twitter and Facebook could not possibly moderate every comment or post I reckon Amazon couldn’t do that without massively impacting their business model. Maybe that is where the problem lies ultimately, societies reliance on capitalism. I’ll leave that for another day.

Hmmm. Snoring Cure?

So, stumbled across a snoring cure. You can see the website here. Now, I’m gonna call bullshit on this right now, but that would seem rather unfair to the company so let’s look a little closer at what they claim.

I have screen clipped their website and I will discuss each section. The main page looks like this:

Snoring1

This says that you wear the ring on your little finger and that it is a snoring treatment that is guaranteed to work. Apparently it’s also been clinically tested! They have made a very specific claim here that wearing this ring on your little finger will make you stop snoring. What else do they have to say?

Snoring5

This explains how it works. Or rather it doesn’t. All it says is that there are Acu-activators on the ring. A quick google shows that this isn’t a real term and isn’t used anywhere apart from the stop snoring website.

Snoring9

It’s not looking too good for this product and we’ve not even really started. I think they may be trying to imply that the things on the ring activate acupuncture points? This is irrelevant as acupuncture is clearly bullshit.

Next bit from the www.goodnightsnoring.com website:

Testimonials amount to nothing. The plural of anecdote is NOT data. I don’t care. 3500 years of history can’t be wrong can it? Of course it can. We now use medicine with evidence not rubbish about Chi and acupuncture points. Also, being mentioned in the Daily Fail is not necessarily a good thing. In fact if a medical “cure” is mentioned in the Mail or Express you can pretty much assume it’s bullshit.

Now, the website covers this with the following page:

Snoring7They claim that a good clinical trial was performed and the results were almost a miracle. This is good because if there is good evidence then I would be prepared to change my mind. The goodnightsnoring.com website doesn’t have a link to the clinical trial. I want to be able to read it and then change my mind. It seems that these are extraordinary claims and so it would be prudent to examine the evidence.

I searched PubMed. There was nothing about the Snoring Ring as being sold here. So I tried searching Google Scholar. Nothing again, just a paper about breast cancer. This was troublesome, my two main sources for scientific papers were showing nada. I decided to look using plain old Google. I searched for “snoring ring clinical trial”.

search1

From these results I wasn’t interested in the Snoring Ring website, there’s nothing on there. I also couldn’t care for a news article in the Daily Fail [they don’t know how to report science]. The other links were mostly places that sell the product and so have probably just got the blurb from a product information release. What interested me originally was the ASA link.

In 2012 a complaint was made to the ASA about the evidence for the claims that the Snoring Ring company were making. The complaint was upheld and the company were told not to make claims about the snoring ring. The so called medical trial was completed after this ruling by the ASA!

Also in the search results was a link to ANTISNOR, a company who produce anti snoring rings. Now, this company mentioned on this page a French company who had done the clinical trials.

In 2012, a French scientific research organisation, Proclaim (www.proclaim.fr), studied the effect of AntiSnor Acupressure Ring . . . .

The Proclaim website doesn’t exist. Even though ANTISNOR link to it. Oh dear, the trail has gone cold.

There are a number of RED FLAGS on the original website. The mention of the following aspects all cause concern. They don’t mean it doesn’t work, they just mean we should be sceptical until we have seen the evidence.

  • Money back guarentees
  • Testimonials
  • No links to the evidence
  • Publicity from the Daily Mail
  • Anecdotes
  • Non invasive and side effect free
  • Appeal to antiquity on the acupressure part of the site
  • No email address to ask for a copy of the clinical trial

So far, I’ve had some people say they think this work and no actual medical trials even though one is claimed. Back to Google.

Another link from Google heads towards Princeton Consumer Research. It appears that this company will undertake clinical trials for you and then allow you to use the results in your publicity. Here’s a Princeton Brochure with their claims. After finding this I found a company called Aspen Clinical Research. They had a pdf linked here and also Aspen-Clinical-Anti-Snoring-Ring-Media-Coverage1 from my site. This PDF essentially claims that the publicity they managed to produce for the Anti Snoring ring was brilliant. They seem to be more of a PR firm than a clinical trial firm. This makes me very wary.

Aspen Clinical Research even went so far as to persuade the press that there was a National Stop Snoring Week in 2014. This is depressing reading.

stopsnoringweek

I hadn’t realised there would be companies that are willing to be paid to undertake some form of research to legitimise PR claims and also produce media puff.

Both Aspen Clinical Research and Princeton Consumer Research do not seem concerned with legitimate medical trials, rather they concentrate on PR friendly trials to produce media results. Neither of the websites were searchable from their homepages. Also, both companies seem to be offering to pay participants. This can’t be a good thing, it would bias the results. All I want is a copy of the clinical trial for the Anti Snoring Ring and I can’t find it. What I have found are companies who provide easy results for PR.

It seems to me that these companies offer to do science the wrong way around and therefore they don’t offer science. It looks like the cycle goes:

  • You have a product and want to make specific claims
  • You will be banned from advertising if you can’t substantiate these claims
  • You PAY one of these companies to do a trial for you so you can then substantiate your claim
  • You then advertise claiming scientific proof.

The correct cycle should be:

  • Scientific research indicates that a specific product could work
  • The product is developed
  • A trial is designed and the details published before being conducted
  • The product is tested rigorously
  • The product is deemed to work, the product can be advertised with specific claims
  • The product is deemed not to work, the product can’t be advertised

I feel utterly depressed at the state of media manipulation and that there are companies that do this as their raison d’etre. Everything we see and hear is manipulated to sell products. I started this communication as a simple investigation into the evidence for a product as they claim. What I found was a collection of companies willing to provide you the evidence you want so you can claim what you want for your product that (probably) does nothing.

Anyway, I can’t get to the evidence for the Snoring Ring. I haven’t found the paper with details of the trial and so I am going to complain to the ASA about their website claims. Watch this space.

Sleep

This morning when I synchronised my Up (by Jawbone) band with my phone it told me I had surpassed my eight hour target of sleep for the night. I was amazed. I was pretty sure I had spent ages settling my sons as they both had reasonably disturbed sleeps.
Only when I looked at the graph of my sleep did I understand what the app was saying. The dark blue is deep sleep, the light blue is light sleep and the orange is up and moving around. As you can see the only way I got eight hours sleep was by going to bed at about 21:15 and waking at 07:00.

Sleep by Up
Sleep by Up

I guess in total I had eight hours sleep but it sure as hell don’t feel like it!

Keeping Watch

It shouldn’t really affect me, but I’m quite proud to have Ben Kenobi looking out over my children while they play and sleep in their bedroom. Even if he is Lego!

20120731-222304.jpg

Quite bizarrely it makes me think they are safe!

Comparatively Refreshed

Wow! Son #2 just slept well! I feel much better having had about two weeks of him only sleeping for 45 minutes at a time and then waking crying because his teeth hurt. He’s even been awake and crying for a couple of hours in the middle of the night.
Last night he woke at 8:30, 12:30 and 3:30 and then finally at 7! It was, all things considered, relatively normal for a 11 month old.
That means I have had a few chunks of sleep of about three hours each. Brilliant. Having been tired since October 2006 this takes me back to normal levels of sleep deprivation.
Let’s see what tonight brings.

29 April Update
Last night was about the same. #2 only woke 3 times for milk and so once again we had a normal amount of sleep deprivation. I’m feeling almost human.

30 April Update
Back to very disturbed from just disturbed. Every 45 minutes until about 01:00 and then he slept until 6. Back to feeling hungover but without the benefits of having had a great night out.