Are you obsessed with getting the perfect night’s sleep to the point where you’re tracking your quality of ZZZs? Then you might suffer from a new sleep disorder called orthosomnia.
The word orthosomnia stems from “ortho” meaning straight or correct, and “somnia” meaning sleep, and it affects those who obsess over the results of their sleep and fitness trackers.
If this sounds like you, then you might suffer from it and not even know it. With May being Sleep Better Month, Organic Authority reached out to sleep experts to get the low-down of what we need to know about orthosomnia and how we can all get some better shuteye.
What is Orthosomnia?
“The term ‘orthosomnia’ was used by the authors of a 2017 case report in the
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine describing the behavior of three patients who used
sleep-tracking devices in a manner that may have been counterproductive to their
health,” explains Dr. Eric Nofzinger, Chief Medical Officer at Ebb Therapeutics who has spent more than 35 years practicing sleep medicine and studying insomnia.
According to Nofzinger, who didn’t conduct the study, the patients “were utilizing summary information obtained from their sleep trackers to modify their sleep-related behaviors, despite recommendations from their sleep clinicians who had different perspectives on the factors influencing their sleep.”
What are the Symptoms?
“The signs of Orthosomnia are that you (or someone you care about) is having decreased mental wellbeing due to obsessive sleep tracking,” says Dr. Benjamin Smarr, National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley and Reverie sleep advisory board member. “If someone can’t stop telling you that their sleep tracker indicates they don’t get exactly enough deep sleep, for instance, that’s a warning sign. The irony is that stress inhibits good sleep, so by worrying over it so much, it can become self-fulfilling by creating a real sleep problem.”
What to Do About It
Like Dr. Smarr says, stress disrupts sleep. So if your sleep tracker is keeping you from sleeping, then it’s doing more harm than good and probably should be discontinued. He also points out that many of these tracker’s “sleep scores” are actually made up so you should take them with a grain of salt.
“The physiological measures are pretty good, but some engineer or marketer decided how to translate all the biological information into a score, and that’s not probably the most reliable metric for your actual state,” he says. “Don’t let them stress you out, and don’t let exploration and self-tracking, which should be fun and a medium for reflection, haunt you each night.”
While Dr. Nofzinger says he applauds “the efforts of individuals to take more charge of their own health by investing in technologies that could benefit them” he notes that trackers also raise “the possibility that the information could not be used appropriately or could be misinterpreted. Not all patients are aware of all the elements of their medical condition, what factors caused it, and how best to modify it.”
Dr. Smarr adds, “We’re all on a journey of transforming medicine and wellness with personal data, but we’re just getting started. Don’t put too much trust in any early judgments. Relax, keep exploring and sharing, and keep an open mind. That will help you sleep better, whether your current wearable agrees or not.”
We all know solid sleep is essential to our well-being, reflecting how we feel and function throughout the day. “Sleep is a primary bodily function, like eating and breathing,” says Dr. Nofzinger. “Close to a third of our lives are spent sleeping. One has to think that it plays some essential and important role in our overall health and functioning. Sleep generally engages systems of the body that play a general role in rest, or restoration, be it of the brain or other bodily systems.”
So it’s not surprising we all want quality sleep. But don’t let a tracker determine your shuteye. Instead look at how you feel when you wake up in the morning and how you function throughout the day.
“Sleep tracking is new, and must be experimental until we figure these things out,” says Dr. Smarr. “By all means, track yourself. It’s interesting, and you might learn something. But please don’t be confused because any of these devices are not likely to have a better view than you of how well you slept on any given night, at least for a few years.”
Because you know you best.
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