What Causes Fragmented Sleep?
Getting enough of quality sleep during the night is crucial for our long-term health and well being, but the question is how to stay asleep throughout the night and achieve the much needed rest?
No one is a perfect sleeper. All of us wake up at some point between sleep cycles, or to use the bathroom, adjust to a more comfortable position, and a certain amount of waking during the night is normal and to be expected.
However, if you wake up repeatedly throughout the night and these awakenings last longer than they should, this can interfere with both the quality of your sleep and the quality of your life and imply that you may have a bigger problem known as fragmented sleep.
What Is Fragmented Sleep?
Fragmented sleep is defined as a condition that causes frequent awakenings during your normal sleep cycle. These awakenings may range from brief episodes after which you quickly fall back asleep, or longer periods of wakefulness after which it may be difficult for you to fall asleep again.
As we mentioned, these are not natural awakenings that most people experience every night during sleep, that are not harmful and that don’t cause daytime sleepiness. Unlike what happens during confusional arousals, people who have fragmented sleep remember their episodes of wakefulness as they often struggle to fall asleep again which decreases the total time they spent asleep and causes them to wake up feeling tired in the morning.
Why Does Fragmented sleep matter?
People who have fragmented sleep often feel that their sleep is not refreshing enough and they wake up still feeling tired in the morning. Recent studies even showed that fragmented sleep is equal to getting no sleep at all because of the daytime sleepiness and fatigue it causes the next day.
Other symptoms of fragmented sleep include morning headaches, memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. However, many people who have fragmented sleep don’t acknowledge they have a problem and wonder why they wake up with a headache and feeling more tired than they were when they went to bed.
On the average, we need 7-8 hours of sleep every night and anything less is considered insufficient. If a person doesn’t sleep normally for an extended period, this can have some serous consequences.
Namely, lack of sleep increases stress levels and appetite while suppressing the ability to burn calories which can lead to gaining too much weight and eventually obesity. It also impacts mood, causes forgetfulness and inability to concentrate and perform well at work or at school, etc.
When a person has fragmented sleep and doesn’t get the rest he needs for days or weeks in a row, this can lead to various illnesses as well, such as increased blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.
How Common Is Fragmented Sleep and What Causes It?
Fragmented sleep isn’t really an official sleep disorder and there are a few types of fragmented sleep:
- Short term fragmented sleep – This type of fragmented sleep can be caused by an illness such as cough or back pain, or it can be due to waking up to care for a new born baby. It is considered to be situational fragmented sleep as it goes away after some time.
- Fragmented sleep caused by an existing sleep disorder – Fragmented sleep can also be a result of an existing sleep disorder like snoring, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, etc. These disorders are causing difficulties staying asleep or falling back to sleep after waking up.
- Fragmented sleep caused by lifestyle habits – Fragmented sleep can also occur as the result of certain lifestyle habits such as alcohol and caffeine consumption, eating large meals and exercising right before bedtime, taking long naps during the day, having irregular sleep schedules, etc.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Sleep specialists often use the Sleep Fragmentation Index to measure the amount of sleep disruption that people with fragmented sleep experience during the night. Another way of diagnosing fragmented sleep involves using Actigraphy which is a small device that is usually worn around the wrist and that measures the sleep-wake cycles and tracks awakenings to detect fragmented sleep.
Sleep specialists may also recommend polysomnography which allows them to observe your sleeping patterns and your brain, heart and lung activity overnight and determine whether a sleep disorder is causing fragmented sleep.
Symptoms of fragmented sleep can be relieved by treating an existent sleep disorder like sleep apnea or narcolepsy. Specialists also recommend that people with fragmented sleep should go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, avoid napping for too long during the day, remove all distractions from the bedroom before bedtime, keep the bedroom clean, dark, cool and quiet, and avoid drinking alcohol and coffee right before bedtime.
Certain sleep supplements like melatonin and valerian may help reduce sleep fragmentation, as well as relaxation trainings, avoiding sleeping during the day and allowing yourself to be tired and sleepy which makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep during the night, etc.
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