A good night’s sleep is based on two things: quantity and quality. We all know that it’s important to get enough sleep, but many people don’t realize that sleep continuity is crucial to waking up refreshed, recharged, and ready to face the day. For some, though, sleep continuity is hard to come by, let alone getting a good night’s sleep.
While waking up once or twice throughout the night it’s completely normal, waking up frequently and not being able to go back to sleep can be problematic. If you find yourself tossing, turning, and staring at the ceiling for longer than you’d like, you may be dealing with interrupted sleep.
Interrupted sleep may be quite a nuisance for those experiencing it but, it’s important to know that the short-term and long-term effects of interrupted sleep can be pretty serious. From irritability and daytime sleepiness to obesity and cardiovascular disease, interrupted sleep can have a measurable impact on your overall health.
“Whether it is interrupted sleep or sleep deprivation, both have a detrimental impact on our waking lives,” says Dr. Nayantara Santhi. “This is because one of the functions of sleep is to serve as a recovery process reversing the wake-dependent decline in cognitive capacity.”
“So, poor sleep, be it interrupted sleep or sleep loss, can lead to significant neuro-behavioural impairment, including deficits in attention, working memory, perception, motor control and emotion.”
And it looks like you’re not alone. Interestingly, as much asof people report frequent nighttime waking or interrupted sleep.
Ahead we take a closer look at interrupted sleep. We examine the causes and effects of interrupted sleep, common symptoms, and we share some tips for fixing your own interrupted sleep.
What is Interrupted Sleep?
Interrupted sleep is also known as fragmented sleep, and as its name implies, it’s an interruption of your sleep—or waking during your sleep cycle. Waking up once or twice during the night is normal, a greater number of awakenings and remaining awake for prolonged periods can lead to sleep fragmentation.
What Causes Interrupted Sleep?
The reasons for interrupted sleep vary from person to person. For some people, fragmented sleep may stem from something like a newborn baby in the house or life events, whereas for others, interrupted sleep could be a symptom of depression or insomnia. Ahead, we take a look at some of the most common reasons for interrupted sleep.
Stress can be insidious, affecting every part of your life, including your sleep. Understandably, when you’re worried about your job, bills, family issues, or fixing the roof on your home, it can undoubtedly interrupt your sleep at night. Stress is common cause of insomnia, usually of the acute variety.
Anxiety and depression can trigger a slew of health issues, and interrupted sleep is one of them. On the whole, depression disrupts your sleep efficiency. Not only does it make it more difficult for you to fall asleep, but itincreased wakefulness throughout the night. And the unfortunate truth about depression and sleep is that it tends to be a vicious cycle. Sleep fragmentation can lead to and and depression sleep problems.
This one is almost a no-brainer—when you’re in pain. Here again, the relationship is cyclical, chronic pain leads to interrupted sleep, worsening sleep quality, and poor sleep quality (as a result of interrupted sleep)
Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, sleep-disordered breathing, or insomnia can lead to fragmented sleep as well. Obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing both impede your airflow and disrupt your sleep. And in the case of insomnia, nighttime waking and the inability to fall back asleep are hallmarks of the condition.
There are also parasomnias, essentially a more narrowed type of sleep disorder. Parasomnia refers to a group of sleep disorders characterized by abnormal behaviors, movements, emotions, perceptions, and dreams that occur during sleep or sleep-wake transitions. These behaviors are typically outside the normal range of sleep-related activities and may include:
- Sleep talking
- Night terrors or nightmares
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
- REM sleep behavior disorder
- Sleep-related eating disorder
During parasomnia episodes, individuals may experience sudden awakenings or partial arousals from sleep, often accompanied by abnormal behaviors or intense emotions. These episodes can disrupt the normal sleep cycle, causing sleep fragmentation and reducing the overall quality of sleep. Consequently, individuals with parasomnias may feel tired and fatigued, and experience daytime sleepiness due to interruptions in their sleep.
It is worth noting that not all parasomnias lead to sleep fragmentation. For example, nightmares may cause arousal and temporary wakefulness, but the overall sleep may not be significantly disrupted.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is all the things you do that promote good sleep; this includes both daytime and evening activities. Things like keeping a regular sleep schedule, avoiding devices and TV (or blue light) before bed, and reducing your caffeine consumption are all part of your sleep hygiene—good sleep hygiene, that is.
On the other hand, poor sleep hygiene, which includes long daytime naps, scrolling through your phone before bed, or not keeping a consistent sleep schedule by staying up late some nights and sleeping in on the weekends… it can all lead to fragmented sleep.
Common Symptoms of Interrupted Sleep
Just as the cause of interruption varies from person to person, so do the symptoms. Some common symptoms of interrupted sleep include:
- Feeling only half-asleep
- Daytime sleepiness/Fatigue
Why is Sleep Important?
Adequate sleep is crucial to our overall health and well-being. Inadequate sleep, on the other hand, quickly thwarts any chance of us operating at peak performance. While we sleep, our bodies enter into a critical repair mode. During this time, our brains are hard at work sorting information, processing information, and forming memories.
Biologically speaking, while we’re sleeping, our body releases the hormones and proteins it needs to repair itself, as well as those required to fight disease or illness.
While we power down overnight, our bodies are hard at work, and disruptions to the process can have significant and measurable consequences immediately and over time.
The Effects of Interrupted Sleep
Interrupted sleep can reduce the total amount of sleep you get each night and potentially disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, which are certainly real causes for concern. But beyond that, repeated interruptions in sleep can adversely affect how you progress (or not) through each sleep stage.
Each interruption in your sleep triggers your body to restart the sleep cycle. Depending on the time it happens (in relation to when your alarm goes off), you may not have sufficient time to get back into the REM sleep stage or into the slow-wave sleep stage, which is your body’s most restorative sleep stage. In other words, you may miss out on precious deep sleep.
Moreover,after that sleep continuity plays a pivotal role in memory, decision-making, and overall executive functioning. One notable study also showed that interrupted sleep could decline in mood or positive feelings after only one night.
Interrupted sleep canyour overall health in both the short and long term. Here’s a snapshot.
Short-term Consequences of Interrupted Sleep
- Impaired immune function
Long-term Consequences Of Interrupted Sleep
- A decline in the
How to Fix Interrupted Sleep
Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule
Establishing and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is crucial for many reasons, not the least of which is nipping interrupted sleep in the bud. A regular sleep schedule allows your body to accurately set its internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake at the appropriate time.
Curb Your Exposure to Blue Light Before Bed
Many people don’t realize how electronics affect sleep. Watching TV before bed, checking in on social media accounts, or even reading an e-book is a common way for most people to wind down at night before bed. The truth is, though, using devices directly before bed (this includes watching TV) may be meddling with your sleep quality.
While exposure to light suppresses your body’s melatonin production (the hormone that regulates your body’s sleep-wake cycles), exposure to blue light has a far more powerful effect on your body’s melatonin production. In fact, research has shown that blue light can suppress your body’s melatonin production for twice as long as the overhead lights in your room, let’s say.
Rethink Your “Relaxing” Activities
Not only will using devices before bed tinker with your melatonin production and throw off your circadian rhythm, but the activities you rely on to wind down could have the opposite effect.
Watching or reading the evening news, engaging with someone on a sticky subject on social media, or even watching an exciting TV show or movie make it exponentially more difficult to wind down and get some shut-eye. Try instead a bedtime routine with activities like reading a favorite book, making a cup of herbal tea for sleep, or enjoying a warm bath.
Manage Your Caffeine Intake
A cup of coffee may be just the thing you need to get over the 2 PM slump, but drinking coffee into the late afternoon and evening hours is directly counterproductive to getting a good night’s sleep. To protect your sleep quality from caffeine, you may try limiting your caffeine intake throughout your day and avoiding it altogether at least six hours before your bedtime.
If you enjoy drinking tea for sleep, look into herbal ones free of caffeine, as even decaf varieties have trace amounts of caffeine.
Create a Calming Sleep Environment
It should come as no surprise that your sleep environment for your bedroom has a direct effect on your quality of sleep. So, if you find that you’re dealing with some bouts of interrupted sleep, you could try reorganizing and redoing your bedroom. To create a calming sleep environment, think about making changes like:
- Adding blackout curtains, bonus if they’re also thick enough to block out noise while sleeping
- Investing in a quality mattress, bedding, and pillows
- Adjusting the temperature for sleeping in your room for more coolness (60 to 67 degrees is ideal)
- Try other hacks to cool down a room, like chilling your sheets in the freezer
- Eliminating clutter in the bedroom
- Adding dimmer switches to your overhead lights
- Removing gadgets and electronics for a tech-free bedroom
Frequently Asked Questions
How can sleep loss affect me?
Sleep loss can affect you in many ways, including making it hard to concentrate, reducing your energy levels, and affecting your mood. Sleep deprivation. can also increase your risk of accidents and injuries. And it can lead to health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Can stress cause broken sleep?
Yes, stress and anxiety can cause broken sleep. When you’re stressed or anxious, your body produces hormones like cortisol that can interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Managing stress through relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or writing in a journal can be helpful for improving sleep.
Does sleep apnea cause interrupted sleep?
Yes, sleep apnea can cause interrupted sleep. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. You will wake up multiple times during the night, though you are likely not aware of it, and feel tired during the day.
Is 6 hours of sleep OK for one night?
Six hours of sleep can be okay for one night, but it’s not recommended as a long-term solution. Experts generally recommend 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults. Getting less than that can lead to feeling tired, unfocused, and even affect your mood and overall health.
Taking a nap can be a good way to catch up on sleep if you didn’t get enough the night before. Just make sure not to nap too close to bedtime, as this could interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.
Why do I not feel rested when I wake up?
Not feeling rested when you wake up can be caused by a variety of factors. It could be due to not getting enough sleep, having an inconsistent sleep schedule, or having a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. It’s important to figure out the cause, possibly by speaking with your doctor, so you can take steps to improve the quality and amount of your sleep.
Waking up once or twice throughout the night is entirely normal. Waking up more than four times and remaining awake despite your best efforts to go back to sleep is a clear sign of interrupted or fragmented sleep. Over the short term, interrupted sleep can lead to mood swings, irritability, and impaired cognitive function. Over the long term, interrupted sleep can lead to hypertension, metabolic disease, and an overall decline in your quality of life.
To fix interrupted sleep on your own, you may try making some changes to your sleep hygiene, including reducing your caffeine consumption, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and even a bedroom makeover to optimize sleep. If you try these changes to no avail, you may want to speak with your doctor.