Orthosomnia Is the New Sleep Disorder You Haven’t Heard Of
Yes, it’s possible to be too obsessed with sleep.
Fitness trackers are great for monitoring your activity and making you more aware of your habits, including how much (or how little) you sleep. For the truly sleep-obsessed, there are dedicated sleep trackers, like the Emfit QS, which tracks your heart rate all night long to give you information about the quality of your sleep. Overall, that’s a good thing: high-quality sleep has been linked to healthy brain function, emotional well-being, and a stronger immune system, according to the National Institutes of Health. But like all good things (exercise, kale), it’s possible to take sleep tracking too far.
Some people become preoccupied with their sleep data, according to a case study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that looked at several patients who had sleep troubles and were using sleep trackers to collect information about their sleep. The researchers involved in the study came up with a name for the phenomenon: orthosomnia. That essentially means being overly concerned with getting “perfect” sleep. Why is that a problem? Interestingly enough, having too much stress and anxiety around sleep can actually make it harder to get the HQ shut-eye you’re after.
Part of the problem is that sleep trackers aren’t 100 percent reliable, which means people sometimes get sent into an emotional tailspin by incorrect information. “If you feel like you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, disruptions on the sleep tracker can confirm your opinion,” explains Mark J. Muehlbach, Ph.D., director of CSI Clinics and the CSI Insomnia Center. On the flip side, if you feel like you’ve had a great night’s sleep, but your tracker shows disruptions, you may start to question how good your sleep actually was, rather than question if your tracker was accurate, he points out. “Some people report that they didn’t know how poor of a sleeper they were until they got a sleep tracker,” Muehlbach says. In this way, sleep tracking data can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you become too concerned about your sleep, this can lead to anxiety, which will certainly make you sleep worse,” he adds.
In the case study, the authors mention that the reason they chose the term “orthosomnia” for the condition was partially due to the already existing condition called “orthorexia.” Orthorexia is an eating disorder that involves becoming extremely preoccupied with the quality and healthiness of food. And unfortunately, it’s on the rise.
Now, we’re all for having access to helpful health data (knowledge is power!), but the growing prevalence of conditions like orthorexia and orthosomnia raises this question: Is there such thing as having too much information about your health? In much the same way that there’s no “perfect diet,” there is also no “perfect sleep,” according to Muehlbach. And while trackers can do good things, like help people up the number of hours of sleep they log, for some people, the anxiety caused by the tracker is simply not worth it, he says.
If this sounds familiar, Muehlbach has some simple advice: Take things analog. “Try taking the device off at night and monitoring your sleep with a sleep diary on paper,” he suggests. When you get up in the morning, write down what time you went to bed, what time you got up, how long you think it took you to fall asleep, and how refreshed you feel upon waking (you can do this with a number system, 1 being very bad and 5 being very good). “Do this for one to two weeks, then put the tracker back on (and continue monitoring on paper) for an additional week,” he suggests. “Make sure to note your sleep on paper before looking at the tracker data. You may find some surprising differences between what you write down and what the tracker indicates.”
Of course, if issues persist and you’re noticing symptoms like daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, or irritability despite getting your seven to eight hours in, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to potentially get a sleep study. That way, you can know for sure what’s going on with your sleep and finally rest easy.