'Orthosomnia' is the latest nightmare sleep disorder

Aletha Wilkinson
·Head of Lifestyle
·4-min read

Aussies have been through the mill in 2020, and it’s showing up in our sleep patterns.

With the added worries about the pandemic, financial stressors and the sudden changes to our usual lifestyles and habits, it’s no wonder we’ve been struggling to get decent shut-eye this year.

At one point, our online search queries asking, “Why can’t I sleep?” went up by 86%, while there was an 85% increase year on year in Australians looking up, “How to sleep fast”, according to data from online visibility management and content marketing SaaS platform SEMrush.

Shot of Sleepy girl trying to hide under the pillow.
Aussies have reported all kinds of sleep disturbances in 2020. Picture: Getty

And while many of us may be tempted to turn to medication, or simply soldier on bleary-eyed, health experts warn there are serious health risks associated with chronic, ongoing sleep deprivation.

“Many independent studies worldwide show that sleep is essential to encouraging a well-functioning immune system,” Dr Verena Senn, neuroscientist and Head of Sleep Research at Emma mattresses, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“Sleep is essential for our health and in our defence against viruses. If you are not getting enough sleep, you become much more susceptible to illnesses and infections.”


With many Aussies working from home or out of work altogether, routines have been disrupted – making it all the more tempting to stay up a little later than usual.

“Emma’s research shows two thirds of Australians are struggling to sleep, citing issues such as being unable to relax, financial stress, or unable to switch off from the work day,” Dr Senn says.

But the difference of just a few hours’ worth of sleep can be dramatic.

“Recent studies have shown that test groups that slept four hours instead of eight, experienced a 70 per cent decrease in the proportion of white blood cells (natural killer cells),” she explains,.

“You might want to keep this in mind the next time you stay up to watch another episode or finish some work.”

If your overall health and wellbeing isn’t enough of a reason to get on top of your sleep hygiene, consider your face!

“Sleep is also the most important part of your night-time beauty regime as it helps to prevent premature ageing,” Dr Senn points out.

“During sleep our bodies regenerate, your skin’s blood flow increases, and the organ rebuilds its collagen and repairs damage from UV exposure, reducing wrinkles and age spots. If you’re not getting enough sleep each night, you're reducing your body’s regeneration processes.”

Sleeping. Dreams. Woman portrait. Afro American girl in pajama is hugging a pillow, on a yellow background
There's a reason it's called 'beauty sleep'! Picture: Getty

Dr Senn has a number of simple recommendations to restore good-quality sleep to your routine.

“Meditation and calming music has a proven effect on relaxation, falling asleep time and sleep quality,” she says.

“In my opinion, one of the biggest impacts of this is taking a person’s mind off the task (or stress) of trying to fall asleep.

“Sleep tracking apps bring awareness to your sleep, and even if they're not perfectly accurate, they help you to understand how much you sleep. The more you are educated about the benefits of sleep, the more likely you are to prioritise it and therefore improve your sleep quality.”

Just try not to get too fixated on logging those hours of rest – because you could end up creating a whole new set of problems for yourself.

“Sleep apps also enable you to learn more about your personal sleep habits and recognise bad behaviour,” she says.

“However, orthosomnia is a new disease where people get so obsessed with their own sleep, they start to sleep worse. This is something people should be aware of if they become dependent on apps for sleep.

“My recommendation is to try making lifestyle and routine changes first, as these are a sustainable way of promoting sleep quality and health without growing dependent on a device.

“Some simple things to do to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep are putting down the phone in the evening as this will emit a blue light that can interfere with sleep.”

And, of course, make sure your sleep space is going to support good-quality shut-eye.

“Ensuring you have a strong sleep infrastructure to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep is a must,” Dr Senn says

“This includes a good quality mattress and bedding.”

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