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What is orthosomnia (and how can I find help)?

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Between smart watches that track our sleep patterns, apps that help us calm down before bed, alarms that are set via our home assistants, and dozens of more modern tricks and tips we might try to help those “better ones.” “ To achieve night sleep, could we actually cause ourselves more stress?

Technology has become an integral part of our lives. Most of us have a hard time remembering the last time we were more than a few feet from our smartphone or smartwatch. We have technology that can help predict depression, technology that helps fight alcohol addiction, endless apps to help us stay organized, reduce our stress, and sleep better. Tech even helps us stay on track and keep our motivation high when we’re struggling at work. But could some forms of technology cause us more stress than benefit?

When we miss out on our much-needed rest and relaxation, not only do we feel tired — our lack of sleep can be bad for our health. Aside from feeling grumpy and not performing at our full potential, one in three of us feels more stressed, nervous, and less focused when we’re not catching enough z’s. According to the NHS, regular poor sleep puts us at risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a shorter life expectancy.

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Normally we need eight hours of good quality sleep to function properly. If you wake up tired or long for a short nap, chances are you’re not getting enough sleep.

While it’s hard to deny the benefits of a good night’s sleep, do we really need the endless stream of sleep tech gadgets the market is trying to sell us? Or could our obsession with sleep trackers lead to a rise in insomnia and orthosomnia?

What is orthostomnia?

You may have heard of orthorexia — a rise in “clean eating” that has led to a condition that bears all the hallmarks of a new breed of eating disorder in which people obsess over the “purity” of their food. Orthosomnia is a new term used to describe an unhealthy obsession where people focus on getting a “healthy” amount of sleep.

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like dr Abbot explains to Health, “We found that we had a number of patients who came in with a phenomenon that didn’t necessarily fit the classic description of insomnia, but which still kept them up at night. They seemed to have symptoms related to concerns about what their sleep-tracking devices were telling them and whether or not they were getting good quality sleep. They actually destroyed their sleep by becoming so dependent on these devices.”

In some cases, we become more and more stressed and our sleep suffers further as we become more and more focused on what our sleep trackers are saying.

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If technology isn’t the answer, what can we do to sleep better?

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Cut down on caffeine

Nutritional Therapist Olianna explains: “Caffeine can severely impair sleep quality. Limit coffee to no more than two a day and avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, and colas) at least eight hours before bed.”

Caffeine isn’t the only thing we should think about before bed. According to Olianna, we should avoid alcohol at least three hours before bed.

“Although alcohol causes drowsiness, it is responsible for disturbed sleep. Alcohol intake takes eight hours, which “steals” our calm. Ideally, avoid alcohol before bed, as it lowers melatonin levels and thus can disrupt sleep, leaving you unrefreshed the next morning.”

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Create a sleep-friendly space

According to experts, we have a strong connection between sleep and our bedroom. Ensuring our sleeping area provides a relaxing environment can be the key to a more restful night’s sleep.

If possible, try to remove distractions such as TVs, phone chargers, and other devices from the room. Investing in a quality mattress and dark, thick curtains or blinds can help you create a more comfortable space.

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Routine is key

A regular bedtime should not only be something for children and teenagers. Keeping a regular sleep schedule can help our brain and internal clock get used to a set routine. To help us stick to this regular bedtime routine, it can be helpful to create a relaxation or self-care routine that you can do each night before bed.

Experiment to find what works best for you. Light exercise like yoga can help you relax before bed and release tense energy.

Listening to soothing podcasts, soft music, or white noise devices can be another way to calm racing thoughts and relax. Likewise, reading a good book or taking a warm bath before bed can help put you in a more positive, relaxed frame of mind.

If you’re worried about tomorrow, making a to-do list can help you clear your head and organize your thoughts in advance. By practicing just a few minutes of mindfulness or meditation each night, you can reconnect with your emotions, feel more aware of how you’re feeling (mentally and physically), and identify anything that might be weighing on you more than you were realized.

Start a sleep diary

Keeping a sleep journal sounds a little counterproductive when we say that sleep trackers can make us more anxious, but sleep experts often recommend them to help diagnose sleep problems. The NHS recommends a simple sleep diary that you can easily download and fill out over the course of a week.

By journaling your sleep, you can uncover habits or activities (that you may not know you’re doing) that are actually contributing to your sleep problems. It can also help uncover any underlying issues, like stress or medications, that you may want to discuss with your GP.

Think about your sanity and well-being

We all feel stressed and anxious from time to time. Could your stress or anxiety levels affect you more than you think? As one consultant explains:

“When someone is feeling depressed or down, it’s very common to have trouble sleeping. Stress, anxiety and worry can lead to sleep deprivation. When we talk about fear, the problem is more related to dealing with the future and its possible uncertainties. Worrying about a possible hazard causes the body muscles to tense and the mind to ponder ‘what might happen if…’”

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Life Coach Robert suggests we should focus on solving our problems before we go to bed. “If there’s an unfinished project or problem you didn’t deal with that day that’s bothering you when you go to bed, try to create an action plan for the next day. It can even be helpful to have a specific task that you will perform to solve the problem.

“It can also be good to ‘count blessings instead of sheep.’ Think of three things you are grateful for right now. It doesn’t have to be big things. Write them down too.”

By working through and acknowledging what is bothering us before trying to fall asleep, we can feel a sense of relief at having written down things that we need to address at another time. We no longer need to keep these concerns at the forefront of our minds. And when we remind ourselves of what we’re grateful for, it can help put us in a more positive mindset before bed — which helps us feel more relaxed and calm.

Try free options

Alternative or complementary therapies can offer a natural, holistic way to promote relaxation and refocus our energies towards our health and well-being. Although many are not scientifically proven, individuals report that they have a positive impact on their well-being and help with certain issues such as stress and insomnia.

Aromatherapy can be an easy way to combat insomnia on your own or with the help of an experienced aromatherapist. Burning a relaxing scent around your home, adding essential oils to your evening bath, or spritzing certain scents like lavender on your bed linens can prepare your mind and body for sleep. If you don’t like lavender, other essential oils that promote sleep include cedarwood and bergamot.

Crystal therapy can be another free option worth exploring. a holistic form of therapy that uses the energy of crystals and their effect on body and mind. They are said to help people release blockages, focus and direct their energy, and those who try crystal healing report an improvement in their well-being, a decrease in sensory muscle and sleep problems, and a deep sense of relaxation. If you’re not sure where to start, amethyst is believed to linger beside your bed to help individuals achieve a more restful night’s sleep.

The benefits of a nice, relaxing massage shouldn’t come as a surprise, but trying an Indian head massage can help improve your sleep routine. The techniques used focus primarily on the head, neck and shoulders and can help promote healing and restore balance to your body.

Hypnosis can also help with temporary or persistent (chronic) insomnia. Hypnosis addresses the possible causes that prevent you from relaxing and falling asleep, and can complement treatments around anxiety and depression that can disrupt your sleep. If you’re unsure about the cause of your sleep problems, working with a clinical hypnotherapist can help you figure out what might be causing those problems.

Article originally published: July 10, 2019
Article updated: September 22, 2022

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