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Orthosomnia: The New Sleep Disorder You’ve Never Heard Of

Sleep tracking devices and apps are all the rage, but is there such a thing as taking the pursuit of a good night’s sleep too far? According to a recent study, the era of the quantified self is responsible for an entirely new sleep disorder called orthosomnia. The researchers found that for a portion of people using wearable sleep tracking devices, a "perfectionist quest for the ideal sleep" actually exacerbated their insomnia, made them more resistant to therapy, and raised their stress levels unnecessarily. The term is a combination of the roots ortho, meaning correct or straight, and somnia, meaning sleep. Sleep tracking devices and apps are all the rage, but is there such a thing as taking the pursuit of a good night’s sleep too far? According to a recent study , the era of the quantified self is responsible for an entirely new sleep disorder called orthosomnia. The researchers found that for a portion of people using wearable sleep tracking devices, a "perfectionist quest for the ideal sleep" actually exacerbated their insomnia, made them more resistant to therapy, and raised their stress levels unnecessarily. The term is a combination of the roots ortho, meaning correct or straight, and somnia, meaning sleep. 

The reliability of wearable sleep devices is questionable, to say the least. Most rely on accelerometers, or motion sensors, to determine which stage of sleep you are in, but many researchers have questioned the trustworthiness of this metric. While sleep trackers are reasonably good at determining whether or not you are asleep, their ability to pin down which sleep stage you are in is not well-demonstrated, and they tend to over-estimate sleep. In the study cited above, the researchers lamented a lack of transparency in many device algorithms, which makes it very difficult for medical experts to determine how accurate they are. 

Despite this, the clinicians found that some patients are highly resistant to changing their views about sleep data they obtain from wearable devices. This made them less receptive to scientifically-backed therapeutic interventions and more likely to cling to a self-diagnosis of a sleep disorder, even when their claim is undermined by a legitimate sleep study. 

For instance, one patient persisted in her belief that she was not getting enough deep sleep, as shown by her wearable device—even when presented with the results of her sleep lab, which directly contradicted this belief. The clinicians felt that this undermined their therapeutic relationship with the patient. Given the notable unreliability of wearable devices relative to in-laboratory sleep studies, they argued that this can be a serious barrier to effective medical intervention.

If you use a wearable device to track your sleep, make sure to take the data with a grain of salt. The best measure of whether or not you’re getting enough sleep is how rested and refreshed you feel the next day, so it’s best not to get hung up on the numbers.