Orthosomnia – the new sleep disorder

I’ve written before about orthorexia, where the wish to eat healthily actually shades into an eating disorder.  Well now I’m writing about orthosomnia – where trying for a good night’s sleep actually becomes a problem.

The key reason for the rise on orthosomnia is the use of fitness trackers to record sleep data.  I’ve written about fitness trackers before as well, and how they can inadvertently promote lower levels of activity. 

The issue is that many fitness trackers give feedback and reports on two aspects of sleep – the overall time spent asleep, and whether that is light or deep sleep.  These can be attractive and compelling, but the problem is that there have been doubts for some time about the accuracy of that data.

Fitness trackers report on whether you’re asleep based on how much you move around, and the depth of it based on your heart rate.  When you compare this to the range of measurements that sleep clinics take – breathing, muscle tension, brain activity, and so on – it becomes clear how misleading this data can be.

If that weren’t bad enough some people become anxious about their results and start to obsess about obtaining the ‘perfect’ night’s sleep recorded on their fitness trackers.   Sometimes that’s takes the form of trying to game the results, by lying in bed without moving to try and improve their results even though they’re not actually sleeping.

That pales into insignificance though next to people who develop orthosomnia.  They become so anxious about their sleep, and its quality, that it begins to suffer.  They lie awake worrying about sleep results, or still being awake, or whether their sleep is deep enough. 

If you think that this issue is affecting you there are two elements in dealing with it.  The first is good sleep hygiene.  Make sure that you have regular bedtimes, avoid blue light before bedtime, and if you are awake in bed for longer than twenty minutes then get up, do something quiet, and go back to bed when you’re tired. 

The second element is to stop using the data from your fitness tracker to micromanage your sleep.  At best use the data only to look at long-term trends in your sleep.  Better still though don’t use it all and listen instead to your body and what that tells you about the quality of your sleep.

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