In today’s fast-paced, high-stress world, the quest for quality sleep is understandable, but what happens when the pursuit of perfect sleep becomes a cause of sleep disturbances? Enter Orthosomnia is a relatively new term coined by researchers in sleep science. Its rise has been driven by the increasing use of sleep-tracking technology and a heightened focus on achieving optimal sleep health. This blog post aims to delve into the phenomenon of Orthosomnia, exploring its causes, implications, and potential strategies to manage it.
Orthosomnia is a term that originates from the Greek word ‘ortho,’ meaning straight, correct, or right, and ‘somnia,’ referring to sleep. Hence, Orthosomnia literally translates to ‘correct sleep.’ However, ironically, it is a condition where an individual is so preoccupied with achieving perfect sleep that it leads to clinical levels of insomnia.
The Emergence of Orthosomnia
The advent and popularity of sleep-tracking devices have played a significant role in the emergence of Orthosomnia. These devices offer individuals the ability to monitor and measure their sleep duration, quality, efficiency, and various other parameters. Although these sleep trackers were designed to help users understand their sleep patterns better and identify potential issues, an unintended consequence has been the rise of Orthosomnia. Many individuals become overly reliant on the data produced by these devices, obsessing over their sleep performance and developing anxiety around their sleep quality, thereby negatively impacting their sleep.
Identifying Orthosomnia can be challenging since sleep tracking is a common practice for those interested in optimising their sleep. However, some common symptoms and behaviours associated with this condition include:
- Excessive Worry About Sleep: Constantly obsessing over sleep quality, even when the individual is experiencing adequate rest.
- Compulsive Sleep Tracking: An overwhelming need to monitor sleep patterns daily, often leading to increased stress.
- Anxiety and Frustration: Feelings of anxiety or frustration when sleep goals are not achieved.
- Neglecting Other Aspects of Life: Prioritising sleep to the extent that other essential activities and social interactions are neglected.
The Psychological Perspective
From a psychological perspective, Orthosomnia can be perceived as a form of perfectionism directed towards one’s sleep. This perfectionistic approach often increases sleep anxiety, leading to insomnia or other sleep disorders. Moreover, it can also result in cognitive distortions, such as magnifying the impact of imperfect sleep on one’s overall health and wellbeing.
Possible causes of orthosomnia include:
- Performance Pressure: In our achievement-driven society, people may feel pressured to optimise every aspect of their lives, including sleep.
- Social Media and Peer Influence: Individuals may boast about their sleep achievements on social media platforms, leading others to compare and strive for similar results.
- Misinterpretation of Data: Sleep tracking technology is not infallible, and misinterpretation of sleep data can lead to unnecessary anxiety.
- Underlying Psychological Issues: Orthosomnia may sometimes be a manifestation of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or perfectionism.
The Implications of Orthosomnia
Orthosomnia can have several implications for an individual’s health and wellbeing. The primary concern is that this obsession can lead to actual sleep disorders, including insomnia. Sleep is a vital component of our health; it plays a crucial role in various physical and mental processes, including memory consolidation, mood regulation, and overall cognitive function. Sleep deprivation can lead to several health concerns, such as increased stress levels, impaired cognitive function, and heightened risk for cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
Moreover, focusing on achieving perfect sleep often increases anxiety and stress, which can have broader psychological implications. This anxiety can lead to cognitive distortions and can affect one’s overall mental health, potentially leading to conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Managing Orthosomnia: A Balanced Approach
It is crucial to develop a balanced approach to sleep. Firstly, it is essential to emphasise that the ‘perfect sleep’ many seek may not exist. Everyone’s sleep needs are different, and while the average recommendation for adults is 7-9 hours, there is a normal variation.
For individuals showing signs of Orthosomnia, cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is often an effective approach. This treatment with a Clinical Psychologist in Birmingham focuses on identifying and altering thoughts and behaviours that may be causing sleep problems and preventing them from improving. CBT-I also includes relaxation techniques and biofeedback to help reduce anxiety around sleep.
Furthermore, it can be helpful to use sleep-tracking devices judiciously. While these devices can provide beneficial insights, they are imperfect, and it’s important not to become overly reliant on them.
Finally, promoting good sleep hygiene is essential to managing sleep concerns. This includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a sleep-friendly environment, limiting exposure to screens before bed, and incorporating relaxation techniques into the bedtime routine.
Orthosomnia, the obsessive pursuit of perfect sleep, is a new phenomenon that has been driven partly by the rise of sleep-tracking technology and a societal focus on optimal sleep health and ultimate productivity. It highlights the need for a balanced, individualised approach to sleep, underlining the importance of quality over ‘perfection.’ As clinical psychologists, we can play a vital role in helping individuals navigate this balance and promoting healthier attitudes towards sleep. Understanding Orthosomnia and its implications is the first step in this journey.
- Baron, K. G., et al. “Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 13, no. 2, 2017, pp. 351–354. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.6472
- Morin, C. M., et al. “Psychological and Behavioural Treatment of Insomnia: Update of the Recent Evidence (1998–2004).” Sleep, vol. 29, no. 11, 2006, pp. 1398–1414. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/29.11.1398