Much like practicing regular exercise and eating a well-balanced diet, you shouldn’t take a good night’s sleep for granted—especially when you take into account its effects on your health. Poor sleep can lead to negative effects on your brain function and hormones. It can even trigger weight gain and increase your risk of developing various diseases. Most people would think that spending at least eight hours of sleep is enough rest. However, what they do not know is that the number of times they wake up during the night, or the time they spend tossing and turning under the covers, can significantly affect the quantity and quality of the sleep that they get.
What is interrupted sleep?
Interrupted sleep is a kind of sleep that involves periodic instances of waking up throughout the night — often occurring at least four times over the course of eight hours. This type of sleep is often caused by a brand-new shift in schedule, trips to the bathroom and unexpected noises or even thoughts.
Interrupted sleep can lead to negative consequences for your overall health. When you sleep, your body undergoes various stages: non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep corresponds to the first three stages, while the normal REM sleep takes place as the fourth stage. REM sleep is often associated with dreaming. When one of these sleep stages is interrupted, the body needs to reset itself and start the stages from the beginning, which can prevent you from getting the restorative sleep that comes with the latter stages.
Even a single night of interrupted sleep can cause immediate effects. In addition to sleepiness during the day, people who experience interrupted sleep often take a hit in their brain function and mood and exhibit signs such as increased irritability and stress, as well as memory lapses. This type of sleep can also contribute to an increase in heart rate, as well as the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, experts claim that interrupted sleep could also lead to an impaired immune system. This is because sleep deprivation causes the body to produce fewer cytokines, a protein that fights off both inflammation and infection.
“It’s easier to get an infection and it could be harder or take longer to get rid of an infection,” Amit Narula, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Carroll Hospital, said.
How to get better sleep
Adopting healthy sleeping habits can make a significant difference in your quality of life. These habits, referred to as sleep hygiene, are vital for optimizing health and keeping the negative effects of sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep at bay. Below you can find a list of tips and tricks you can adopt to help you get better sleep.
- Less bright lights during the day. The body has a natural body clock called the circadian rhythm that helps you stay awake and tells you when it’s time to go to bed. Exposing yourself to natural or bright light during the day can help maintain healthy circadian rhythm patterns and thus keep your sleep schedule in check. Studies have shown that people with insomnia experienced improved sleep quality and duration when exposed to bright lights during the day. Furthermore, it also improved the time it took them to fall asleep by about 83 percent.
- Reduce blue light exposure in the evening. While exposing yourself to bright lights during the day is beneficial for your health, doing so at night can bring adverse effects. Exposure to bright lights in the evening might trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, thus disrupting your sleep schedule and reducing the production of hormones like melatonin which helps you relax and achieve healing, deep sleep. Blue light, in particular, is one of the worst types of light to be exposed to. These lights are the ones emitted by gadgets like smartphones and computers, making them very prevalent around the household.
- Cut your late-day coffee intake. An early morning dose of coffee can give you the energy to get through most of the day. However, having coffee late in the day can stimulate your nervous system and make it more difficult to relax at night. If you do want to curb your coffee cravings, it might be best to just take decaffeinated coffee instead. (Related: Decaf vs. regular coffee: What are the different health benefits?)
- Don’t take too many naps. Short naps can be quite beneficial to health, but longer ones can negatively affect your sleeping habits. Sleeping during the day time can confuse your circadian rhythms, causing you to find it difficult to fall asleep at night.
Learn more about how sleep affects your health at MindBodyScience.news.