You Are Not So Smart on Placebo Sleep


Sleep Cycle Application

I finally listened to the episode on placebos on the You Are Not So Smart podcast a few days ago, and it confirmed some interesting theories I put forward to people in the past.

You Are Not So Smart

But more on that a little later. You Are Not So Smart was developed by David McRaney and deals with self-delusion and how many of us feel overconfident and are arrogant when there are still so many things that we don’t know about the world, in a very very small nutshell.

I used to forward sensational news stories without skepticism and think I was a smarty pants just because I did a little internet research. Little did I know about confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies, and once I did, I felt very, very stupid. I still feel that way, but now I can make you feel that way too.

Ruben introduced this podcast to me earlier in the year but I hadn’t had much time to listen to it, since the topics it discusses makes me feel as though I should devote proper time and brainpower to really work though it.

Confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies for some are the only way they are able to have any sense of pride or self-esteem though. When I first started writing this blogpost, I wanted to mention the fact that I had never felt overconfident or unaware of how much I did not know — since I have never felt like I am particularly good at anything or have any skills worth marketing.

However when I reflect now for a moment, there was a time in late 2011 - early 2012 where I did feel a little bit of pride and self-worth in myself. It also happens that those were the times I knew how much I could find out just by searching for it on the internet, and felt smarter for it that by simply weilding Google, I could sound like an expert. For once I could feel less than just entirely stupid.

Perhaps it is fortunate that I snapped out of this, but in the greater scheme of things, I am more aware than ever before how much there is simply nothing that I know.

Sleep Placebo

Moving on past my issues though, this episode about placebo sleep was quite interesting as it explored an experiment. Regardless of how they slept, those that participated were arbitrarily told during the experiment that they slept either well or badly which impacted their performance on the experiment activities for the rest of the day regardless of how they had truly slept.

I recommend actually listening to it for a better understanding of what I mean, as this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This was intriguing because I had hypothesised for a long time about the iPhone application, Sleep Cycle in regards to placebo sleep. While by no means I feel overconfident in myself and my ideas, this did in a sense give me a sense of validation however — that perhaps my hypothesis had merit and it was not something that should be brushed off, like those that I’d talked to about it seem to have done.

It is not that I doubt that Sleep Cycle does not analyse your movement in bed in regards to your different sleep phases correctly, however its potential to be inaccurately used is simply too high. If you wake feeling refreshed, all it takes is a look at your sleep quality percentage or graph for your entire day to suddenly be wrecked if your Sleep Cycle app reports that you slept badly during the night.

For this reason I stopped using Sleep Cycle for a long time.

However, interestingly I think also works the other way. If I place belief in the fact that Sleep Cycle has the ability to wake me up during a light sleep phase and therefore feel refreshed in the morning, it is likely I will feel more refreshed in the morning, even if only for a short time as it usually proves to be.

That is, at least if I don’t look at the results of how I slept that night.

While I have no way of knowing whether this is true or not, it seems that I am not alone at least in my doubts (of various natures) as this article in Psychology Today seems to prove — the first time I’ve really looked into whether anyone else had the same sentiment. There is simply too much that is unknown about sleep, placebos and our minds, but at least it means there is always plenty to learn. :)

(The above sleep result is real, by the way. I cut the screenshot in half in order to properly fit it to the width of the post. I was extremely careful not to see my result that morning - and it seems for good reason seeing as it says 0%.)