Sleep-Tracking Gadgets Might Be Fueling a New Anxiety: Orthosomnia

Sleep, the elusive state we all crave, has morphed from a basic human need into a complex puzzle we’re desperate to solve.

With a quick internet search, you’re bombarded with articles, gadgets, and advice columns promising the secret to perfect sleep.

But as Dr. Jen Gunter ¹ suggests, our fascination with sleep has taken on an urgency that’s hard to ignore. It’s time to dive deep into the world of sleep, debunk myths, and discover what truly matters when getting a good night’s rest.

The Flawed Messaging of Sleep Perfection

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The narrative surrounding sleep is often filled with dire warnings. Miss out on the sacred seven to eight hours, and you’re on a fast track to a myriad of health issues, from high blood pressure ² to Alzheimer’s ³. However, this messaging is flawed in two significant ways.

Firstly, the golden rule of seven to eight hours is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

While it’s a useful average, it overlooks the individual variations in sleep needs. Some might thrive on six hours, while others need a full eight. And women might need more sleep than men.

Secondly, the doomsday tone of sleep messaging can be counterproductive, especially for those already struggling with sleep. The fear of not achieving perfect sleep can lead to anxiety, which only exacerbates sleep issues.

The Rise of Orthosomnia

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In 2019, it was estimated that 21 percent ⁴ of adults in the US were using sleep-tracking devices, a trend that’s likely increased.

Fascination with sleep data has led to orthosomnia ⁵, an obsession with perfect sleep metrics, ironically causing more sleep disturbances.

This condition is not just about the anxiety of insufficient sleep. It involves a complex interplay of behaviors: a preoccupation with sleep tracker data, frequent checks, and anxiety over disconnection from technology.

Individuals with orthosomnia often mistakenly believe their sleep trackers are infallible, leading to extended bedtimes and altered perceptions of sleep quality. This paradoxical situation, where the pursuit of perfect sleep leads to increased stress and sleep disruption, highlights the need for a balanced approach to sleep tracking and health.

Rethinking Our Approach to Sleep

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Experts like Dr. Colleen Carney ⁶, head of the Ryerson University Sleep Lab, advise a shift in focus.

Instead of obsessing over the number of hours, we should ask ourselves: Do we feel well-rested? Can we sleep through the night without disturbances? Are we able to stay awake during the day without issues?

If the answer is yes to all of them, our sleep concerns might be less severe than we think. For those struggling, the key isn’t in costly gadgets but in seeking medical advice and engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) ⁷.

This structured, evidence-based approach addresses the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contributing to insomnia. CBT-I combines cognitive restructuring, relaxation training, and behavioral adjustments to break the cycle of sleep anxiety and promote healthier sleep patterns.

Typically spanning 6-8 sessions, CBT-I has been shown to reduce the time to fall asleep and increase overall sleep quality. It’s a first-line treatment recommended by the American College of Physicians, often more effective than medications and beneficial for various insomnia types, including chronic and short-term.

With a success rate of 70% to 80%, CBT-I offers a promising path to better sleep without the need for medication.

Embracing a Balanced View of Sleep

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Photo Credit: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock.

As we navigate the complex landscape of sleep, it’s crucial to balance our quest for perfect rest with a realistic understanding of our individual needs.

By debunking myths, questioning the anxiety-inducing messages, and embracing evidence-based approaches, we can step back from the brink of sleep obsession and move towards a healthier, more balanced relationship with our slumber.

So, as you lay your head down tonight, remember that the secret to good sleep might just be a matter of perspective and understanding, not just hours and gadgets.


Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.