What Is Orthosomnia? Doctors Are Worried People Are Too Obsessed With Sleeping Well — And It’s Negatively Impacting Their Health
Not getting enough sleep is a serious problem — insomnia can make it difficult to remember information, decrease your sex drive, or increase your depression symptoms and forgetfulness. I'm constantly thinking about whether I'm getting enough sleep, and it turns out that obsessiveness about sleep health could be seriously detrimental. Doctors have coined a term for people obsessed with sleeping well, and it's called orthosomnia. The condition has been on the rise since the introduction of sleep trackers, according to Dr. Joseph Ojile, founder of Clayton Sleep Institute and chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. But Ojile says that orthosomnia is still relativelyrare — the majority of people with sleep trackers are using them in healthy ways. "We’re happy that people are interested enough in sleep to start to monitor it," he tells Bustle.
Research published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine last year said doctors are seeing a rise in orthosomnia. "There are a growing number of patients who are seeking treatment for self-diagnosed sleep disturbances such as insufficient sleep duration and insomnia due to periods of light or restless sleep observed on their sleep tracker data," the researchers wrote. "The patients' inferred correlation between sleep tracker data and daytime fatigue may become a perfectionistic quest for the ideal sleep in order to optimize daytime function."
I was gifted a Fitbit about two years ago, and I used it until it broke. I tracked my sleep every night, and if I felt grumpy or unexpectedly anxious, I'd attribute it to my restlessness the night before. As someone who used to track their sleep religiously, I was a bit freaked out when I first heard about orthosomnia.
When it comes to orthosomnia, patients "think [a tracker] is so accurate that it’s measuring everything about their sleep quality. They’re making their lives all about the tracker." Ojile compares it to people becoming hyper-focused on exercise or nutrition. Some patients with orthosomnia are also obsessive about other things in their lives, while others are only overly worried about sleep. One of the biggest downsides, per Ojile: People can actually get less sleep if they have a ton of anxiety about getting enough sleep.
So how can you avoid orthosomnia? If you can't stop thinking about whether you're getting enough sleep, it's a good idea to stop sleep tracking for a while. Instead, you can implement these strategies that don't require you to use a digital device. Set a regular wake-up time: "You can give yourself a little bit of wiggle room on the weekend," Ojile says, but you should wake up around the same time every day, give or take an hour.
Ojile also recommends turning off electronics an hour before bed. I often fall asleep scrolling through Instagram, which Ojile was dismayed to hear. He says electronics should be turned off an hour before bed, and you should use Night Shift mode to avoid blue light, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Additionally, going to bed around the same time every night can be majorly helpful in fixing your sleep hygiene. "The key with sleep habits is consistency," he tells Bustle. Choosing a bedtime and sticking to it can make you feel well-rested.
Even though some people experience more harm than good thanks to sleep tracking, the majority of his patients benefit from it, Ojile says. "The best way to make something better is to measure it." I don't know that I'll replace my Fitbit anytime soon, but I am tempted to try some of Ojile's other tips. It can feel easy to become hyper-focused on sleep health when you have so much data at your fingertips, but the best way to stay healthy is to stay aware. If you're feeling anxious about getting enough sleep, it may be time to step away from tracking — I haven't tracked my sleep in months, and I feel fine. Overall, though, sleep trackers are actually good for you if they're used properly.