The Rise of Orthosomnia: Is too much focus on Sleep Tracker data keeping us awake?



Do you ever feel like you’re spending too much time obsessing over your sleep tracker data? If so, you may be experiencing orthosomnia. Orthosomnia is a proposed term for an obsessive pursuit of optimal sleep driven by sleep tracker data. Since orthosomnia is a new term for an emerging trend, no standard definition or list of symptoms exists. However, the condition may include self-diagnosing sleep disorders from sleep tracker data. It can also involve an excessive focus on improving data from a sleep tracker instead of actual sleep quality.

Orthosomnia was shortlisted for the 2022 Word of the Year by the Macquarie Dictionary, which defines the word as; “insomnia thought to be caused by a preoccupation with obtaining the amount and quality of sleep recommended by a wearable sleep tracking device, often resulting in anxiety, which can in turn adversely affect sleep quality and the ability to fall asleep.” But what exactly is orthosomnia, and what can we do about it? Read on to find out.


What is Orthosomnia?

Orthosomnia is a sleep disorder where people become obsessed with achieving perfect sleep. Sufferers of Orthosomnia can be found in an ever-growing number, as individuals strive for perfect sleep. The term first appeared in a case study published by researchers from Rush University Medical College and Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in 2017; ‘Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?

People with orthosomnia often use sleep-tracking technology such as smartwatches or wearables to monitor their sleeping patterns, spending hours focused on obtaining the optimal amount of rest. An unnatural obsession with quality and duration of sleep can result in anxiety-filled days, as those afflicted feel unable to meet the standards they’ve set for themselves in order to be rested enough. Left untreated, this disorder can lead to extended periods of sleeplessness that can further exacerbate mental health issues.

What Causes Orthosomnia?

Orthosomnia is a relatively new and quickly growing phenomenon fueled by an obsessive need for data. The desire to track our own sleeping patterns as closely as possible has been compounded by the vast array of tracking gadgets available on the market, like fitness bands and sleep monitors. As technology becomes increasingly interwoven with our lives, people often forget that small fluctuations in our everyday behaviour can get amplified when tracked over large periods of time – leading people to worry more than they should about their sleep-wake cycle. Additionally, the fact that many of these tracking devices offer questionable accuracy only exacerbates the issue, adding yet another layer of uncertainty to tracking and obsessing over one’s sleeping habits.

Sleep Trackers causing Orthosomnia

What are the Symptoms of Orthosomnia?

Little agreement exists among experts about what constitutes symptoms of orthosomnia. However, studies have shown that obsessing over getting sufficient sleep can ironically lead to sleeplessness and numerous other symptoms. Orthosomnia has the potential to cause a range of issues, including:

1. Waking up frequently during the night

If you wake up multiple times throughout the night, it could be a sign of orthosomnia.

2. Waking up early in the morning

Another symptom of orthosomnia is waking up earlier than you would like to in the morning. This is because your body cannot get into a deep sleep, so you end up waking up before you’re fully rested.

3. Difficulty falling asleep

If you have difficulty falling asleep, it may be due to orthosomnia. This is because your body cannot relax and get into a deep sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep in the first place.

4. Feeling tired during the day

Not getting the restful sleep your body needs leads to fatigue during the day. If you feel tired during the day, it may be due to orthosomnia.

5. Difficulty concentrating

If you have difficulty concentrating, it may be due to orthosomnia. This is because your brain is not getting the rest it needs, which can lead to difficulty focusing and paying attention.

6. Irritability

Feeling irritable or short-tempered can be a sign of orthosomnia. This is because your body is not getting the restful sleep it needs, which can lead to feelings of irritability and frustration.

7. Headaches

If your body is not getting the restful sleep it needs, it can lead to tension headaches or migraines.

How to Treat Orthosomnia

Despite not yet being classified as a medical disorder, orthosomnia is negatively impacting the sleep of many people. To prevent its onset or address it in those already experiencing symptoms, steps should be taken which allow individuals to view their sleep tracker data with an understanding that it may not be accurate or suitable for them. In addition to consulting doctors and experts for context while interpreting readings from trackers, evidence-based practices can improve overall sleeping quality if adopted effectively.

Ditch the devices

Despite the heading, it’s not necessary to chuck your sleep tracker in the bin. You may find that restricting how often you dive into the data and how much emphasis you place on it helps you sleep better. It’s vital that you understand how your sleep tracker works, what metrics it’s tracking, what these metrics mean, and how accurate it is. Focus on the data linked to the sleep problems you are experiencing, and remember that everyone is different, and although averages and goals are very useful, they may not be right for you. If your sleep tracker provides recommendations, take these as suggestions rather than rules. As they say – “if it ain’t broke…”

Be careful not to rely too heavily on sleep trackers. Instead, you might find it more beneficial to keep an old-fashioned sleep diary or sleep journal—rather than data generated by a device—which tracks your subjective opinion of how well you slept so that you can figure out patterns in your behaviour and environment, as opposed to chasing arbitrary goal numbers set by a tracker.

Improve sleep hygiene

Traditional sleep hygiene practices can help ease orthosomnia symptoms. To improve sleep hygiene, one of the best things you can do is to set a regular time to go to bed and wake up each day. This helps keep the body’s natural circadian rhythms in sync and makes it easier to wind down at night.

It’s also important to limit our exposure to blue light emitted from screens such as computer monitors or smartphones, as this is known to disrupt nighttime melatonin production.

Taking some time before bed for relaxation activities like listening to calming music, reading a book, or taking a warm bath can enable your body and mind better prepare for sleep.

Check out our other articles for more sleep hygiene tips.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

If you have tried the first two suggestions without success, ask your doctor or psychologist about Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. CBT-i, or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, is an effective treatment of orthosomnia. CBT-i is used to modify behavioural and mental habits in individuals with this sleep disorder, replacing unhealthy behaviours with ones that help create healthy sleep patterns. CBT-i also works to reduce stress and anxiety related to the condition by helping people become aware of their thoughts and actions that may be contributing to their insomnia.

In conclusion, orthosomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterised by an obsession with achieving perfect sleep. The condition is relatively new but seems to be on the rise due to our increased dependence on technology and social media. If you or someone you know is struggling with orthosomnia, it’s important to understand that there are options for treatment. By making simple changes to your sleep habits and not taking your sleep tracker too seriously, you can improve your sleep quality and reduce your symptoms. If these methods don’t work, cognitive-behavioral therapy can be an effective way to change the way you think about sleep and break the cycle of insomnia.

Symptoms of Orthosomnia
How to Treat Orthosomnia

Please note:  This article is not to be used as medical advice.  If you have any questions about your sleep health, speak to your doctor. This post may contain affiliate links.

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