Sleep continuity is the ability to sleep for a set amount of time without interruptions. Fragmented sleep occurs when a person is unable to sleep for a set amount of time and instead experiences sleep that starts and stops. Even though total sleep time is important for feeling well-rested, the ability to sleep without regularly starting and stopping is just as important. Fragmented sleep affects the overall quality of your sleep and can cause problems such as insomnia, sleep deprivation, and daytime sleepiness.
Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common causes of fragmented sleep. This is because OSA causes the airway to collapse, leading to pauses in breathing. As a result, the body is forced to wake up in order to restore proper breathing. This can continue several times per hour all night long, which significantly interferes with the amount of sleep an individual gets.
What are the symptoms of fragmented sleep?
The most common symptom of fragmented sleep is waking up one or more times throughout the night. These wakeful cycles can occur a few times a night or several times; may last for a few minutes or a prolonged amount of time; or may cause restless sleep or feelings of being only half-asleep without being able to fall into a deep sleep. While most people are able to realize they are having sleep interruptions, some people are not aware of these interruptions. This is especially common in people with OSA.
Who is at risk for fragmented sleep?
Sleep fragmentation can affect anyone, however there are certain risk factors that can make a diagnosis more likely. These risk factors include:
- life stressors
- chronic pain
- anxiety and/or depression
- unhealthy lifestyle & sleep habits
- chronic illnesses
- hormone fluctuations associated with menstruation, menopause, or thyroid disorders
- gastrointestinal disorders
- neurological disorders
- other sleep disorders (sleep apnea & restless leg syndrome)
What are the health consequences of fragmented sleep?
The most prevalent consequence of fragmented sleep is daytime drowsiness. However, the consequences of fragmented sleep go beyond feeling fatigued and groggy in the morning. It can lead to a number of serious health problems such as increased risk of depression, hypertension, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even early mortality.