So what exactly is Fragmented Sleep, and what does it have to do with getting (or not getting) enough shut-eye at the end of the day?
Getting plenty of quality rest at night is extremely important to having a normal, happy, healthy life. But unfortunately, there are a number of things that can go wrong with this. Snoring, sleep apnea, sleep walking, insomnia—there are so many different types of disorders and problems that can affect our quality of rest that it is almost difficult to keep track of them all.
But here is one that you probably haven’t heard of. It has been gaining some pretty mainstream attention, as of late, and has a lot of people talking.
Some people call it Fragmented Sleep Disorder (though it is not actually a disorder), and there is a good chance that you have suffered from it! It is, after all, a pretty common condition—though there are not really any official numbers measuring its exact frequency.
Here are the details.
What Exactly Is Fragmented Sleep?
According to an article published on Tuck.com, Fragmented Sleep (or Sleep Fragmentation) can be defined as ‘many brief arousals throughout the night.’
Yes, that sounds pretty basic as it stands—but you may actually be surprised to learn that there is a bit more to it than that.
First, it is essential to understand that pretty much everyone comes out of REM sleep at periodic times during the night. This happens during what is called a ‘microarousal,’ which is normal. Microarousals, which are part of the normal sleep cycle system for humans, do not cause daytime fatigue and are generally not something that we remember when we wake up in the morning.
But Fragmented Sleep arousals are different. If your sleep is technically ‘fragmented,’ then you will not only wake up periodically throughout the night, but you will also remember doing so. You may even have trouble getting back to sleep, and it can definitely hurt your energy levels the next day.
A lot of people call this insomnia, though that is not technically the right way to describe it.
Insomnia is technically occurring when individuals have ‘persistent problems falling and staying asleep.’ But with Fragmented Sleep, the individual will generally not have a big problem falling asleep. They will just wake up one or more times throughout the night, and may or may not be able to fall back to sleep with any relative ease.
Now, with that being said, it is possible that those who suffer from Sleep Fragmentation are actually suffering from a form of insomnia known as ‘Sleep Maintenance Insomnia.’ This differs, though, from the classic-case example of insomnia that is formally known as ‘Sleep Onset Insomnia.’
It is also important to point out that Fragmented Sleep is not the same as Polyphasic, or Biphasic, sleep.
If someone’s sleep is fragmented, they will wake up periodically in such a way that their natural sleep schedule will become disrupted. Biphasic sleepers, on the other hand, have natural sleep cycles in which they will sleep in two different, but consolidated periods with a longer waking period in-between.
Biphasic Sleep is actually pretty common, and does not disrupt energy levels throughout the day when it is being employed correctly… unlike Sleep Fragmentation, which does.
What Causes It?
Interestingly, Fragmented Sleep Disorder is not an official sleep disorder. It is actually considered a symptom of other sleep disorders or environmental problems leading to sleep loss. People who suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea may experience it, as may people who suffer from Narcolepsy.
Sleep Fragmentation can be detected by physicians through the use of an SFI, or Sleep Fragmentation Index. Basically, doctors measure sleep disruptions in people who are suspected to have Fragmented Sleep, and they then divide the total number of arousals and the number of sleep-state-shifts by the total time slept.
Polysomnography is sometimes used to evaluate the sleep patterns of patients, though an Actigraphy can also be used.
People experience Fragmented Sleep for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, the cause is related to some other type of sleeping disorder. It could also be caused by an inability to relax, distractions in your environment, alcohol or drug use, asthma, snoring, an abundant intake of caffeine during the day, or a number of other things.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out why a problem like this is happening. But it is really important that you try to resolve it if it is happening to you—because fragmented sleep can absolutely cause daytime fatigue, which will impact not only your happiness and emotional well-being, but also your long-term health in-general.
Is There a Treatment For Fragmented Sleep?
There are a number of things that you can do to help deal with Fragmented Sleep if you are, in fact, suffering from it. The first would be to try to figure out if it is just a one-time thing, or a regular thing. If you have an especially busy or stressful week, and end up not getting as much sleep as usual, then you may be able to chalk it up to the environment, the situation, and/or the stress and just move on. Hopefully, when life gets back to normal, so will your sleeping habits.
Or, are you suffering from restlessness and waking up periodically throughout the night? And if so, is this having a negative impact on your day-to-day energy levels? If the answer to these questions is a ‘yes,’ then there is a good chance that you are having a problem with Fragmented Sleep that needs to be addressed before it does too much damage.
Over time, problems like this can magnify and get worse, because they can lead to you building up a rather extreme amount of sleep debt. And to a point, you can only repay a certain amount of it. The rest is lost for good—and that is definitely not a good thing.
Not surprisingly, the number-one treatment usually prescribed for Sleep Maintenance Insomnia is to allow yourself to get tired enough to get a good night’s sleep the next time you go to bed. The idea behind this is actually pretty simple.
If you don’t sleep well, you will probably be tired the next morning. But if you take a nap during the day to catch up, you may end up creating a perpetual cycle in which you don’t sleep well at night, then are forced to catch up during the day.
So instead of taking a nap, try forcing yourself to stay awake during the day so that, at the end of the day, you are good and tired and ready to get a full night’s rest.
Fragmented Sleep: Can It Be Cured?
For the most part, treatment for Sleep Fragmentation usually involves being instructed to stay awake after a night of fragmented sleep so that your body will be good and ready to rest the night after. But in more extreme cases, or in cases where this technique does not work, it might be necessary to treat other underlying sleep disorders as well.
If doctors determine that the Sleep Fragmentation is being caused by something like Sleep Apnea, or Narcolepsy, then they may attempt to treat that sleep disorder in hopes that it will also get rid of any related symptoms.
You may be asked to undergo a sleep study if you do seek treatment for Fragmented Sleep, which would be advisable to help figure out what the problem actually is.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to determine what is causing a problem like this. Sometimes, it could be complex and related to some kind of complicated sleeping disorder. And sometimes, it could be caused by something as simple as drinking too much coffee too late at night!
How Do You Know If You Might Be Experiencing Fragmented Sleep?
This problem, and other problems like it, are actually gaining more mainstream attention lately as doctors and specialists place a heavier emphasis on the need for a quality night’s rest as a critical component to a healthy life. With that being said, there are a number of symptoms that doctors are now urging people to be aware of that may indicate the presence of some kind of sleeping disorder—including a problem with Fragmented Sleep.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, odds are good that you should probably speak to your doctor about them.
What Happens If You Don’t Get It Treated?
Fragmented Sleep, like most other sleeping disorders, can lead to bigger problems if it is allowed to persist. These may include (but are not limited to) an increase in blood pressure and a greater risk for cardiovascular problems. People who do not get enough sleep are also at a greater risk for type 2 Diabetes, have increased food cravings, have higher stress levels, and suffer from a decreased ability to burn calories. (source)
Failure to get a sleeping disorder treated can also lead to higher levels of stress, lower levels of general overall happiness, and problems with concentration and focus throughout the day.
Simply put—not getting enough sleep is bad for you. And even though Fragmented Sleep is not always a chronic condition… it is still serious. And it is especially dangerous when it is a chronic occurrence that doesn’t go away.
It is pretty normal to experience fragmented sleep when something really ‘out of the ordinary’ is going on. For example—a mother who brings a newborn baby home from the hospital is obviously going to have Fragmented Sleep as she gets up to feed her child.
But if there is no obvious reason that it is happening… well, that is when it may be time to talk to your doctor about it.
How Can You Stop Fragmented Sleep From Happening?
The best way to stop this from happening is to keep regular, consistent sleeping patterns. You can also avoid drinking alcohol within four hours of going to sleep, avoid caffeine consumption late in the day, and avoid looking at electronic device screens within 1 to 2 hours of bedtime.
Working out too closely to bedtime can also be a cause.
If you snore, or suffer from sleep apnea, then there is a good chance that any fragmented sleep problems are linked—because snoring, and sleep apnea, are definitely a leading cause of Fragmented Sleep.
You can also experience this problem if there is a lot of noise, if there is unwanted light shining through your blinds, if your sleeping space is too uncomfortable, etc.
As you are probably starting to figure out, there can be a lot of different potential causes for this problem.
Try to keep your sleeping area free of distractions. Shut your door, keep the lighting as low as you can get it, and try to keep things quiet while you sleep. Try not to engage in any of the listed activities above too close to bedtime, and make sure to stay away from alcohol and/or caffeinated beverages.
Make Sure to Prioritize Healthy Sleeping Habits
The simple fact of the matter is that your quality of rest is of extreme importance. Just like eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting plenty of exercise—it is very important to get a quality period of rest every night. Our brains and bodies need this rest to heal, detox, and re-energize… and if we don’t get it, our health and wellness will absolutely suffer as a result.
So be proactive about your sleep, and try to get this problem under control if it is a problem that you’re currently dealing with. And remember—you may have to talk to your doctor about it if you can’t get it sorted out on your own.
This is especially true if you think it may be related some another sleeping disorder—like sleep apnea or snoring. Don’t let Fragmented Sleep, or any other problem, keep you from getting the kind of rest that you need and deserve.