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!


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



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.

HSW 55 – Are You “Getting By” On 5-6 Hours Of Sleep – Maybe Even Less?

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast Episode:

This week I reflect on a talk that I delivered at the Wellness Basecamp here in Brisbane last weekend titled “Are You Getting By On 5-6 Hours Of Sleep – Or Maybe Even Less?” because as shift workers we can definitely relate to running on minimal sleep due to our work hours and irregular roster patterns.

What is probably most concerning however, is that right now, according to the World Health Organisation or WHO, we’re currently living in the grips of a global sleep loss epidemic and with that comes negative consequences on our health.  In fact, as stated by the Victorian State Government here in Australia, shift workers get on average 2-3 hours less sleep than other workers which over-time is staggering.

In this episode, I discuss:

  • what happens when we’re sleep deprived
  • how much sleep do we really need
  • along with some actionable steps that you can implement into your own shift working lifestyle that’s going to help to maximize your sleep.

Links mentioned in the podcast:

How To Break Up With Your Phone 30 Day Challenge
Sleep Master Sleep Mask

Weight Loss: Why It’s Not All About The Food That You Eat.

As we close the door on yet another year (seriously how fast did 2017 go!), and head into a brand spanking new one, it’s only fitting that we become inundated with a never-ending plethora of “diets” that promise to help shed those unwanted kilo’s once and for all in 2018!

But weight loss is not all about the food that we eat – particularly if you work 24/7.

If you’re like most people, you probably won’t even make it past the 8th of January before dropping the ball, and throwing in the towel on yet another diet that didn’t work for you.

Bang!  There goes that New Year’s Resolution “I’m gonna lose the weight this year!”

So why is this?

Well first and foremost, I want to re-iterate that it’s not your fault.

This is because so many diets out there focus entirely on the food that we eat, without taking into consideration anything else that may be going on, which just sets people up for failure before they’ve even begun.

Weight loss (or more importantly, having a healthy body) is not all about counting calories, running yourself ragged on the treadmill and following a restrictive diet after being told you “can’t eat this” and “can’t have that”.

I mean let’s face it – restricting ourselves from certain foods is no fun at all!

In fact, it can actually drive us a little crazy because we become so focussed on what we can and cannot have, that it only elevates our stress and cortisol levels even more, which can contribute to our weight gain.

On the other hand, prioritising your sleep even when working 24/7 can have a huge influence on your weight loss.

This is because lack of sleep leads to:

  • Poor food choices and decision making – when we’re sleep deprived, we tend to crave the naughty stuff, the sweets and greasy chips because sleep deprivation impairs the frontal lobe region of the brain which oversees complex decision making, whilst at the same time, increasing activity in the deeper region of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved in reward seeking behaviour.
  • A disruption in our appetite regulating hormones – leptin and ghrelin.  Sleep deprivation is essentially a type of hormone disruptor as it disrupts our finely tuned endocrine or hormonal system, which in turn, can cause havoc on our waistlines.   When working correctly, leptin sends signals to the brain telling us when we’re full, whilst ghrelin let’s us know when we’re feeling hungry.  The trouble for shift workers (and anyone else who may be struggling with insomnia), is these hormones don’t function as they should when we’re running on limited sleep.
  • A greater likelihood of eating bigger portion sizes – due to the disruption of these hunger hormones we’re more likely to overeat, and overeat on all of the bad stuff!  This was illustrated in a study of over 1000 sleep-deprived subjects where disruption to appetite hormones equated to an increase in food consumption equivalent to 350-500 k/cal per day, most notably in the form of snacks made from carbohydrates.

So instead of feeling extra paranoid about what you’re eating in 2018, and boarding the weight loss/weight gain roller coaster ride all over again, why not step outside the box a little and give the following a go:

  1. Make it your absolutely NUMBER 1 priority in 2018 to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.  Whilst quantity can be a little more challenging, particularly if you’ve been blessed with some not-so-friendly rosters, quality is something that each and every one of us can work on improving.  Fundamentally, getting good quality sleep is going to help regulate your appetite and control body weight through healthy food selection, as opposed to rash impulsivity that occurs whenever our sleep tanks are running close to empty.
  2. Include more real, whole foods into your diet.  Upping the intake of your veggies is going to have a profound impact on your gut health, weight AND sleep, as important neurotransmitters necessary to instigate sleep (such as serotonin and melatonin) are found in the gut.
  3. Become a self-care Ninja!  Working shift work is tough, really tough, and so many of us put the care of others before ourselves, even when we’re functioning on depleted batteries thanks to ongoing sleep disruption.  2018 needs to be the year you finally PUT YOURSELF FIRST, because when you do, you will find that you will become so much happier in yourself, and will be in a way better position to take care of others anyway.  This may mean allocating a time (every day) for yourself when you do absolutely n.o.t.h.i.n.g.  Yep!  Whether that’s sitting outside under your favourite tree with a good book, going for a swim or taking a yoga class, your overall health (including your waistline) is going to be much more open to recalibrating itself when you’re feeling way less stressed.

So why not do things differently this year, and NOT go on another diet.

Not only will your workmates be extremely jealous as you proudly share your New Year’s Resolution to “not go on another diet”, just knowing that you’re not locked into some kind of restrictive eating pattern for the next few weeks, months etc. is going to lift an enormous weight off your shoulders and set you up for a much healthy and happier shift working existence in 2018.

Audra x



Broussard, J, Kulkus, J, Delebecque, F, Abraham, V, Day, A, Whitmore, H & Tasali, E 2016, ‘Elevated ghrelin predicts food intake during experimental sleep restriction’, Obesity, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 132-138.

Fung, J 2016, The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, Scribe Publications, Brunswick.

Greer, S, Goldstein, A & Walker, M 2013, ‘The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain’, Nature Communications, vol. 4, no. 2259, pp. 1-19.

Harvard School of Public Health 2017, ‘Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar’.

School of Medicine and Public Health 2013, ‘How the tired brain directs junk-food binges’, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

HSW 47 – Gut Health, Probiotics and Sleep with Dr Jason Hawrelak.

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast:

This week I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing one of the leading experts on gut health, Dr Jason Hawrelak who is a researcher, lecturer, naturopath, and nutritionist based in Hobart with over 17 years of clinical experience.

Whilst there’s an enormous amount of research on some of the damaging effects a poor diet has on our gut health (high saturated fats, low fibre, and high sugar), another less known factor is how sleep disruption can have negative implications on the state of our gut health too.

Given shift workers are prone to circadian rhythm disruption or a disruption to our sleep/wake cycle, what most people are unaware of is how this sleep disruption can actually disrupt the composition of our gut microbiota which can subsequently impair the lining of the digestive tract, leading to an increase in the permeability of the gut, otherwise known as “leaky gut”.

Dr Hawrelak goes into detail on some of the mechanisms behind this increase in intestinal permeability, along with discussing the difference between pre and probiotics; capsules versus powder; and when is the best time to take your probiotics in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Links mentioned on the podcast:

Probiotic Advisor

Goulds Natural Medicine Clinic

SLEEP: Why It’s Even More Important Than Nutrition.

“Sleep.  Why it’s even more important than nutrition.”

Sound like an odd statement coming from a Nutritionist?!

Perhaps so, but for the last 2 years I’ve been working with clients one-on-one, and have noticed a missing link in those who are getting great results and feeling much healthier, versus those who are not.

So you’re probably wondering, “what’s this missing link?”

Well it’s actually kind of obvious, particularly if you’re a shift worker, but it’s Sleep.

Because we all know when we work 24/7, sleep can be a very scarce resource.  In fact, almost non-existant on some days!

However despite this enormous challenge faced by every single shift worker out around the world, those who appear to “have it all together” so-to-speak, truly value their sleep.

In fact sleep is their absolute NUMBER ONE priority.

Not nutrition, not exercise, but sleep.

Because let’s face it.  It’s very hard to make in-roads with our health when we’re consistently running on little sleep.

And that’s the difference.

For shift workers, sleep disruption or deprivation is not an ‘occasional’ event.  Sleep deprivation is a part of their life.  I like to think of it as one of the “perks” to your job, that your employer forgot to mention in your job interview!

But let’s get back to nutrition.

As a fully-fledged nutritionist, I am by no means discounting the importance of nutrition.  Absolutely not.  It’s a fundamentally important element of our health and wellbeing, however I’m merely pointing out that if you’re drinking a turmeric latte whilst scrolling through social media on your smart phone at 10pm, knowing that you start work at 4am, then you’re pretty much offsetting all of those nutritional benefits – at the expense of your sleep.

Because it’s really important to understand, that sleep is right up there with water and the air that we breathe on the importance scale!

It is an absolutely essential, non-negotiable part of our health, which is why shift workers are incredible human beings, because they work against their natural circadian rhythms or body clock almost every single day.

But let’s compare the two.

  1. If you were to go without food for a week (which I’m definitely not recommending by the way), you would feel weak, tired and lethargic, but generally overall you would still be OK.
  2. If however, you were to go without sleep for a week, you would barely be able to function!  Your entire body would begin to shut down and if this sleep deprivation continues long enough, you could even start having hallucinations, when you begin to see or hear things that aren’t even there.

Not exactly an enticing picture, that’s for sure.

So if you’re working really hard on your nutrition and you’ve been moving away from your once highly-processed diet, then I’d like to say that’s awesome – really it is!  Eating well can be an enormous challenge when we feel continually tired all of the time.

If however, you’re knowingly or unknowingly sabotaging your sleep whilst working 24/7, then perhaps it’s time to redirect your focus a little, and make sleep your number 1 priority.

Big shift working hugs,

Audra x

P.S:  If you’re feeling lost on how to fine-tune your sleep whilst working 24/7, I’m very excited to announce the launch of my brand-spanking new ‘Better Sleep Program’ – exclusively for shift workers.  So if you would like to really drill down and find ways to improve the quality of your sleep despite erratic rosters, then Click Here to watch a video to learn more.



Alhola, P & Polo-Kantola, P 2007, ‘Sleep deprivation:  impact on cognitive performance’, Neuropsychiatry Disease and Treatment, vol. 3, no. 5, pp. 553-567