THE BOTTOM LINE:
- Being woken up during your sleep cycle causes sleep stage disruptions
- Disruptions to your sleep stages can be bad for your health
- Luckily, we have solutions for all of your sleep stage disruptions!
As many as 56% of people report having issues with disrupted sleep during the night. Your sleep stages become disrupted if you are woken up or disturbed while in the middle of your sleep cycle. The consequences of sleep disruptions vary depending on the stage of sleep you’re awoken from. This article will help you identify some common causes of sleep stage disruptions and easy ways to fix them!
Before we jump right into the common causes of your sleep disruptions, let us explain what is happening during sleep stage disruptions!
What happens if my sleep stages get disrupted?
Depending on what stage of sleep gets disrupted, there will be different consequences to your sleep cycle and overall health.
During stages 1 or 2: You are still in a light enough sleep phase that you can move in and out of sleep fairly easily without causing health consequences. The biggest problem that arises from disruptions to stage 1 or 2 is that it could prevent you from passing into deeper stages of sleep that are important for maintaining your health.
During stage 3: In addition to feeling super groggy and overall crappy when waking up during this stage, your body could miss out on the important repairing and strengthening that would otherwise occur in your muscles, tissues, and immune system.
During REM sleep: It is easier to be woken up during this stage of sleep but that doesn’t mean it is any easier on your body. Missing out on REM sleep can lead to serious emotional consequences, such as self-esteem issues and mood disorders. REM sleep is also important for memory reconsolidation so missing out on this portion of sleep can make it difficult to form long-term memories. Although, one perk of being woken from REM sleep is that you’re more likely to remember your dreams!
Specific consequences for continuous sleep stage disruptions
Many consequences of sleep stage disruptions cannot be pinned down to a specific sleep stage. Having multiple awakenings through your sleep cycle can lead to negative consequences to your brain’s health:
- Cognitive performance: Research has found that adults who experience a disruption in sleep continuity may experience problems with their working memory and verbal fluency.
- Memory consolidation: Uninterrupted sleep is crucial for processing memories, and research has found that fragmented sleep can lead to a significant decrease in memory performance.
- Mood disorders: Researchers have found that interrupted sleep can contribute to a decrease in positive mood, which can lead or contribute to mood disorders, such as depression.
- Cognitive decline: Sleep problems are an early symptom of cognitive decline, but research has found that this relationship goes both ways. Disrupted sleep stages can actually advance the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In addition to the consequences to your brain, sleep stage disruptions can also lead to negative consequences to your physical health:
- Pain sensitivity: Research has found that pain sensitivity can significantly increase with fragmented sleep, even after just 2 nights of disruptions.
- Diabetes and heart disease: Researchers have linked repeated nighttime awakenings to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Weight gain: Disrupted sleep impairs your body’s ability to effectively use energy and also causes an increase in your hunger hormone, ghrelin. This leaves you more likely to overeat and less able to effectively burn off the excess calories.
Now that we understand what the consequences can be, let’s jump into what can cause our sleep stages to become disrupted!
What can cause sleep stage disruptions?
Many, many factors can cause sleep stage disruptions, so we’re going to break them down into sleep environment disruptions, sleep disorder disruptions, disruptions related to your health.
1. SLEEP ENVIRONMENT DISRUPTIONS
Your bedroom is too warm
Warmth might feel cozy, but your sleep stages will suffer. Your body temperature naturally drops during stage 2 sleep, but if your bedroom is too warm it might prevent that temperature drop from happening. This could cause you to wake up repeatedly and prevent you from transitioning into deep sleep.
The Fix: It’s best to keep your thermostat set to 65℉ (18.3℃) to avoid overheating at night.
Your bedroom is too bright
Whether it be natural daylight or bright street lights, light is a serious sleep disruptor. By inhibiting melatonin production responsible for making you sleepy and keeping you asleep at night, light can be your sleep’s worst enemy.
The Fix: Put up blackout curtains or use a sleep-mask to eliminate light pollution.
Blue light is invading your sleep
If you use your phone or laptop before bed, or fall asleep to the television so it gets left on all night, you’re probably exposing yourself to too much blue light throughout the night. Blue night is known to inhibit melatonin production. Learn more about the benefit of unplugging before bed.
The Fix: Keep all electronics out of the bedroom and decide that your bedroom is a place only for sleep (and sex).
Noise is disrupting your sleep
Loud noises, and even some more subtle noises, can wake you up enough to cause major sleep disruptions.
The Fix: Invest in a sound machine that can mask environmental sounds using white or pink noise. Alternatively, earplugs are a handy way to block out all noise if you sleep best in silence.
2. SLEEP DISORDER DISRUPTIONS
This very serious sleep disorder causes frequent awakenings, even if you don’t register that you’ve woken up. This leads to numerous sleep-stage disruptions and an abnormal sleep cycle.
The Fix: Sleep apnea can be a serious medical condition and require medical attention! Talk to your doctor if you think you may suffer from sleep apnea. You can use this quiz to see if your sleep disruptions might be caused by sleep apnea.
This sleep disorder can prevent you from falling asleep, can wake you up through the night, and may also cause you to wake up too early in the morning. Essentially it can mess with all of your sleep stages, and will often prevent you from completing a full sleep cycle. Some people have one type of insomnia, while others experience all types.
The Fix: Insomnia can be caused by a wide range of different assailants:
- If your insomnia is stress-related or due to your sleep environment: It may just require a quick lifestyle “fix” of amping up your sleep environment, creating an easy-to-implement bedtime routine, and monitoring your pre-bedtime consumption of sleep disruptors such as alcohol, caffeine, or sugar. You can check out our masterlist of relaxation techniques, our comprehensive guide to building a sleep sanctuary, and our power down hour tips for a bedtime routine to help you!
- If your insomnia might be due to a medical condition or medications: You may need to contact your doctor to treat the medical condition (opposed to trying to treat insomnia directly) or make an adjustment to the medication you’re taking.
This sleep disorder is characterized by excessive sleepiness and the inability to stay awake. Someone who suffers from this sleep disorder might fall into a deeper sleep more quickly and spend too much time in deep sleep.
The Fix: It is so important to try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Even if you’re falling asleep during the day you should still keep the same bedtime and wake time consistent. Exercising daily can also help to keep your mind alert when you might start to feel uncontrollably sleepy, or scheduling *short* consistent daily naps (no more than 20 minutes before 2pm) if you generally get sleepy at the same times everyday. These lifestyle changes can be used in conjunction with medication prescribed by your doctor.
Restless Leg Syndrome
This condition occurs in around 10% of the American population. It causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs along with an uncontrollable urge to move them. It is extremely disruptive to sleep and often leads to daytime sleepiness and long-term sleep deprivation. Restless leg syndrome can disrupt all of your sleep stages by waking you up frequently through the night.
The Fix: Talk to your doctor about being tested for anemia or iron deficiency, as they have been found to increase the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Caffeine and other stimulants should be eliminated as they make the condition worse. Medications like pramipexole have been found to be effective in around 75% of people with restless leg syndrome, improving their quality of sleep.
3. HEALTH-RELATED SLEEP DISRUPTIONS
Research has found that sleep quantity and quality change over our lifespan, with slow-wave sleep decreasing and light sleep increasing. This makes older adults more susceptible to sleep disturbances.
The Fix: Don’t we all wish we could “fix” aging. Unfortunately, this one is inevitable but you can still improve your sleep architecture as an older adult by living a healthy lifestyle (exercising, eating healthy, and saying no to unhealthy substances) and amping up your sleep environment. Sleep disruptions are a normal part of getting older and improving the quality of sleep you get with good habits is an excellent strategy.
Research has found that this can get you into a tricky loophole, with depression leading to sleep disruptions and sleep disruptions leading to depression.
The Fix: Depression is a serious mental health disorder. Please contact your doctor if you feel you might be suffering from depression. In the meantime, some lifestyle changes might help to improve your sleep, such as exercising regularly, reducing alcohol consumption, or meditating before bed.
Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on sleep. Many people spend time in their beds tossing and turning while frustrated which can also create unwanted associations between your bed and stressing out. Carrying stress and anxiety into sleep can make it harder to fall asleep and lead to frequent awakenings.
The Fix: There are many techniques you can use to quiet a busy mind. Try to de-stress and reduce your anxiety before bed by doing deep-breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. Also, eliminate caffeine consumption after 2pm to avoid being overcaffeinated before bed.
An overactive or underactive thyroid can lead to sleep disruptions, research has found, by causing insomnia and excessive daytime fatigue.
The Fix: Make sure to contact your doctor to have your thyroid tested. You can improve thyroid issues with medication and also lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and exercise.
What could be worse than trying to sleep, but everytime you lay down you feel the burning sensation of acid reflux in your esophagus? This can make it extremely hard to stay asleep as well, disrupting your sleep stages.
The Fix: The easiest and fastest fix to get yourself a good night’s sleep when experiencing acid reflux is to use an antacid, such as Tums or Gaviscon.
Another effective tip: Sleep on a wedge pillow or something that keeps your head elevated through the night.
Preventing acid reflux: Avoid foods that cause acid reflux as well as alcohol at least 3 hours prior to bedtime.
Low magnesium levels
Magnesium is responsible for maintaining healthy levels of your sleep-promoting neurotransmitter, GABA. Magnesium deficiencies can lead to restless sleep, frequent night-time wakings, and insomnia.
The Fix: Research has found magnesium supplements can be helpful in treating the symptoms of insomnia caused by low magnesium levels. Magnesium glycinate is the most effective form to use as it is rapidly absorbed. Try taking 400 mg during the day or even right before bed.
This condition causes you to wake up multiple times throughout the night to urinate. This can disrupt any and all of your sleep stages, and prevent you from completing a full sleep cycle before the next bathroom alarm wakes you up again!
The Fix: Reduce your fluid intake 2-4 hours before bedtime and seriously limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption to try to prevent your bladder from filling before bed. You can also improve your bladder control by strengthening your pelvic floor with Kegel exercises and pelvic floor therapy.
You may need to talk to your doctor about medications or surgical interventions if lifestyle changes do not improve your nocturia.
SUBSTANCE-RELATED SLEEP DISRUPTIONS
The Fix: Avoid alcohol consumption at least 3-4 hours before you want to sleep.
Learn more about how bad alcohol can be for your sleep.
The Fix: Keep away from caffeine after 2 pm and limit your intake to 2-3 cups of coffee a day MAX. Watch out for sneaky little caffeine additions to common foods and medications such as headache and diet pills!
Learn more about how your caffeine is messing with your sleep.
Nicotine is a stimulant and is very disruptive to sleep. Nicotine impacts your sleep by causing fragmented sleep patterns, and insomnia. It can even reduce REM sleep. Heavy smokers may also experience withdrawal throughout the night which further reduces sleep quality. Smoking cigarettes makes you more likely to snore and raises your risk of sleep apnea.
The Fix: The best fix would be to quit smoking, like, completely. This is going to be the only way you can make sure that nicotine is not going to hinder your sleep. Initially, the withdrawal effects may disrupt your sleep, but once your body has adjusted your sleep will normalize!
It is probably not a surprise that sugar gives you energy. High levels of sugar consumed throughout your day can cause sleep disturbances and less time in deep slow-wave sleep. High-fat foods decrease sensitivity to the brain chemical, orexin, which is helpful in maintaining the body’s sleep and wakefulness. Spicy foods can cause heartburn, acid reflux, and in more severe cases gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can all make sleeping more difficult because the symptoms get worse when you lie down.
The Fix: Stop snacking 2-3 hours before bed to give your digestive system time to break down those high sugar, high fat, or spicy foods. If you’re hungry before bed, try reaching for foods that are known to boost your sleep quality, such as beans, lentils, or nuts.
Learn more about how to eat your way to better sleep.