Home Health & Wellness Sleepless Nights? ChatGPT’s Advice: A Dream or a Nightmare?

Sleepless Nights? ChatGPT’s Advice: A Dream or a Nightmare?

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People have been using Google for sleep advice for a long time and this isn’t wavering, with Google searches for “insomnia” up 5% in the UK in the past year at an average of 47,000 monthly searches.

As Google remains a go-to for sleep queries, the rise of AI platforms like ChatGPT introduces a new frontier for seeking health guidance. Yet, amid the convenience, concerns emerge regarding the lack of regulatory oversight, potentially leaving users vulnerable to subpar health advice. 

Dr Sophie Bostock, Bensons for Beds’ sleep expert, delves into the realm of ChatGPT’s sleep advice, shedding light on both its strengths and shortcomings. In her assessment across different age groups and inquiries, she uncovers notable drawbacks, urging a balanced approach.

Question content freshness

Dr Bostock points to ChatGPT’s reliance on diverse data sources, including unverifiable wellness publications, which may compromise the accuracy and timeliness of its advice: “ChatGPT responses are drawn from data from many different sources, which include medical websites but also ‘wellness publications’ which may not be referenced. It’s a major limitation of the advice that ChatGPT won’t tell us what the source was, as medical guidelines or government or NHS sources would be more credible, for example, than an opinion piece. 

“This means that some advice is either simplified or may not be up-to-date. For example, ChatGPT advises us to avoid exercising a few hours before bedtime. A systematic review in 2019 found that exercising a few hours before bed is OK, but to avoid vigorous exercise within one hour of bedtime. We are warned that screen time before bed may interfere with sleep because ‘the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of melatonin’. This is true, but most studies suggest that a bigger effect of screens on sleep is actually that they delay bedtime.”

Confirm accuracy of advice

Of particular concern is ChatGPT’s lack of awareness of the UK health system, notably regarding melatonin usage. While the platform advocates consulting healthcare providers, its oversight of prescription-only substances poses risks.  Dr Sophie comments: “Of the responses we have looked at, I think the only inaccuracy I would really be concerned about is around melatonin. Even if you state that you live in the UK and that you are 25 years old, ChatGPT does not mention that in the UK, melatonin is only available on prescription.” 

NICE guidelines recommend that melatonin be prescribed to those aged 55 and above. This is really because the evidence for melatonin for the treatment of insomnia in younger people is very weak. ChatGPT doesn’t mention that melatonin is only available without prescription in some countries, but it does give sound advice: Before starting any new sleep aid or supplement regimen, your friend must consult with a healthcare provider, such as a doctor or a pharmacist.

Lean on experts for prioritising 

Dr. Bostock highlights the platform’s suggestion to share personal information for tailored advice, contradicting basic online safety principles. Despite efforts to tailor responses, the absence of nuanced understanding persists, as exemplified by its ranking of insomnia treatments. 

“You may be able to improve the accuracy of ChatGPT advice by telling it more about you and your circumstances. Of course, the advice will be generic unless you can provide personalised information. To avoid sharing sensitive information with the programme, you could ask for advice from a friend. For example, ‘My friend is a 70 year old woman. How much sleep does she need?’ This generates a sensible answer, which includes that there is a lot of natural variation in how much sleep we need.

“If you use the word ‘insomnia’ this triggers the recommendation to try CBT-I, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia, albeit it is listed as number 10 on a list. I would personally want to emphasise that CBT-I, the number one recommended approach for treating chronic insomnia, according to medical guidelines.”

Take AI’s advice with caution

While not dismissing ChatGPT outright, Dr Bostock advocates for cautious engagement, particularly in matters as nuanced as sleep. Emphasising the need for a holistic approach, she underlines the importance of integrating AI insights with professional expertise: “Overall, I think ChatGPT can be a helpful source of sleep information. It is limited by the absence of explicit sources or references, and the fact that the data may be out of date. It cannot deliver advice that is tailored to your individual experiences, lifestyle, health, medical history and circumstances; for that, you need to speak to a qualified healthcare professional.”

As AI continues to permeate daily life, discernment remains paramount. In the quest for sound sleep, harnessing technology alongside human wisdom promises a well-rounded approach, ensuring restful nights are not left to chance.

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