Improving Sleep Quality: What Is Interrupted Sleep?


This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Many adults assume that if they spend eight hours in bed, they are meeting their daily needs for rest and rejuvenation. What they fail to take into account, however, are the number of times they wake up throughout the night, or minutes spent tossing and turning under the covers, which can seriously cut down on both the quantity and quality of that sleep. 

Interrupted sleep refers to sleep that is punctuated by prolonged periods of waking up throughout the night, usually at least four times over the course of eight hours. The condition can be caused by a sudden shift in routine (for example, a new baby in the house), unexpected noises (such as a party at your neighbor’s house or a partner’s snoring), bathroom trips, or racing thoughts.  

The Health Fallout

Interrupted sleep can have negative consequences on your overall health. During the night, your body progresses through different stages of sleep. If one stage is interrupted, your body has to reset and start going through the stages again, meaning you may never get to the deep, restorative sleep that occurs during later stages. 

Even just one night of interrupted sleep can negatively affect your mood and cause you to experience a decline in attention span. Interrupted sleep can slow your reaction speed and make it harder to learn or remember things. It can also lead to a buildup of amyloid proteins in the body, which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Finding a Fix

If you suffer from interrupted sleep, there are lifestyle changes you can implement to try and sustain sleep for longer periods of time. First, try restricting your sleep a little bit. Figure out how many hours you’re actually getting per night, minus any periods of wakefulness, and only allow yourself to be in bed for that long. After cutting down on your sleep, you’ll naturally become sleepier at night, leading you to sleep more deeply. 

Next, if you find yourself awake at night for more than fifteen minutes, get out of bed. Go to a quiet, dimly lit couch or comfortable chair, and do a relaxing activity like reading, meditating, or gentle stretching. Once you feel drowsy again, head back to bed. 

Finally, stick to your normal wake up time, even if you had a bad night of sleep the night before. Staying consistent with a bedtime and wakeup time will help your body remain in tune with its circadian rhythm, and help your chances of resting peacefully through the night.