Orthosomnia – What Is It, And Why Are Shift Workers So Prone To It?

Orthosomnia – it sounds like a mouthful, but what exactly is it?  Well in simple terms, it means “correct sleep”.  But it also refers to when people become obsessed with sleeping well, which can actually backfire for anyone working 24/7.

Now, as someone who spent decades running on little sleep, my first thoughts were – “so what’s wrong with wanting to sleep well?!”

I mean, isn’t getting good quality sleep a good thing?

You bet, but we can also take it too far.

As in become obsessed with wanting to quantify everything in pursuit of optimal physical and mental health.

Because when you think about it, any sort of obsession – can be stressful.

  • An obsession with our weight.
  • An obsession with the number of calories that we’ve eaten.  (Which if you’re following this as a method of losing weight, is actually a myth by the way).
  • An obsession with the number on the bathroom scales.
  • An obsession with the number of kilometres that we’ve run.
  • An obsession with the amount of steps that we’ve walked.

I mean, this obsession with numbers can totally mess with our psyche – which is anything but healthy.

This of course, leads me to sleep trackers, and why their use can actually be detrimental to shift workers even though we are one of the biggest consumers of this latest “must have” gadget.

And why wouldn’t we be.

According to the Victorian State Government – shift workers get on average, 2-3 hours less sleep than other workers which is staggering if you times those figures by per week, per month and per year.

In fact it provides a valid reason why so many shift workers are lured in by the clever marketing and promotion from technology firms, persuading them that if you’re serious about wanting to improve your sleep, then wearing these high tech gadgets strapped to your wrist is going to be the answer to all of your sleep-deprived woes!

Apparently.

But according to the latest research, the majority of data collected from sleep monitors is often misleading.

This was illustrated in a study undertaken by a 27-year-old woman who complained about feeling “unrefreshed” upon awakening after what she (and her Fitbit device) perceived as a poor night’s sleep.   However, when she spent the night in a laboratory setting, results of her polysomnography, which is a test that measures brain waves, heart and other indicators during sleep, results showed she’d actually had a lot of deep sleep.

Quite simply, her Fitbit told her that she was having a poor night’s sleep, which was actually incorrect.

My immediate thoughts to this was – “great, a lot of anxiety brought on for nothing!” because we already know that anxiety in itself, can impair our ability to sleep and sleep well.

According to sleep researcher Kelly Baron PhD, these increasingly popular devices “are unable to accurately discriminate stages of sleep” because they’re unable to differentiate between light and deep sleep, which is reflected in brain wave activity and eye movements that are not measured by sleep trackers, so are therefore providing incorrect sleep data.

So I think it’s time to give the sleep trackers the flick and get back to the basics when it comes to improving both the quality and quantity of our sleep.

Whilst we know getting good quality (and quantity sleep) is SUPER important when working 24/7, I think we need to spend less time measuring it, and more time actually doing it.

And this begins by prioritising our sleep.

This means actually taking the time to unwind before bed instead of jumping straight into it, and expecting the sleep “ON” switch to be magically turned on!

This also means avoiding any stimulatory gadgets (yep, that includes both the mobile phones AND sleep trackers!), because on a biochemical level, this will help to calm your nervous system down and move your body into a state of relaxation.  Otherwise known as the parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ arm of the nervous system.

Because we must appreciate that sleep is a form of relaxation.

In other words, in order to sleep and sleep well, we must be relaxed.

A very basic human instinct that for so many of us today, (and for so many reasons), appear to no longer be able to do without some type of anti-anxiety, sedative or hypnotic medication that over the long-term, can have serious side-effects.

Audra x

 

References:

Baron, K, Abbot, S, Jao, N, Manalo, N & Mullen R 2017, ‘Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?’, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 351-354.

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