The Sleep Disorder You’ve Likely Never Heard Of

Dr. Sarah Abbott, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Northwestern University, has been treating people with sleep disorders for more than a decade, but in recent years she has begun to notice patients reporting a new type of sleep disorder called “orthosomnia.” A number patients didn’t necessarily meet the classical description of insomnia, but they were still being kept up at night. They seemed to have symptoms related to concerns about what their sleep-tracking devices were telling them, and whether they were getting good quality sleep or not. In other words, they were stressed out because they weren’t measuring up to their tracker’s definition of “good” sleep. In essence, their devices were actually destroying their sleep. After realizing that this wasn’t an isolated incident, Dr. Abbott and her team conducted a study that was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. They dubbed the newly observed condition as orthosomnia — “a perfectionist quest to achieve perfect sleep.” So, should we ditch our trackers? Overall, says Dr. Abbott, people need to decide for themselves whether tracking their sleep is harmful or helpful. “If you feel like it’s useful for you and you don’t notice any negative effects, there’s no reason to stop,” she said, “but if you feel like it’s making things worse, maybe it’s time to make a change. Wear your fitness tracker during the day to track your steps, but take it off at night and see if things get better.”