Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Louise Carter
If you’ve ever hit the snooze button on your morning alarm call, you’ll know how groggy you feel when a sleep cycle is interrupted.
This suggests that sleeping briefly is worse than staying up all night, but this isn’t the case.
Little sleep is better than no sleep. A typical sleep cycle lasts for around 2 hours. If you get this much sleep, you’ll feel much better than if you don’t rest.
You’ll still feel the impact of poor sleep in the morning, as 2 hours is unsustainable. Constantly interrupted sleep isn’t as harmful as insomnia, but it’s comparable.
Is Broken Sleep As Good As Solid Sleep?
If you’re fortunate enough to climb into bed at 10 PM and take up at 6 AM, with no memory of the events between these two timeslots, you enjoyed a solid night of sleep.
You’ll likely feel much better than if you were awakened numerous times overnight.
You weren’t necessarily asleep for 8 hours straight. You likely underwent 4-5 complete sleep cycles, with micro periods of awakeness. Human sleep cycles are broken down into 4 stages:
- Stage 1 – The body starts to relax, and the mind unwinds.
- Stage 2 – The temperature drops, and the heart rate slows.
- Stage 3 – Deep sleep is where the body repairs itself from the day’s exertions.
- Stage 4 – REM sleep is the stage where we dream.
Each sleep cycle can last 90-120 minutes. The more sleep cycles we can fit in, the more rested we feel in the morning. If these sleep cycles are interrupted, this is called broken sleep.
What is Considered Interrupted Sleep?
Enjoying 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is rare, especially once we reach adulthood.
As we age, we’re increasingly likely to need bathroom breaks overnight, while the stresses and strains of daily life can also lead to insomnia.
Waking up once at night isn’t considered uninterrupted sleep. Sleep experts consider around 4 instances of waking and staying awake for a prolonged period as broken sleep.
Falling asleep will be harder if you’re woken and remain awake for 30+ minutes. This means you’re less likely to complete an entire sleep cycle.
Why is Broken Sleep Bad?
According to Current Sleep Medicine Reports, broken sleep is a form of insomnia. The inability to get sufficient rest is linked to a range of symptoms, including the following:
- Inability to concentrate.
- Limited short-term memory.
- Sluggish physical reactions.
- Inability to make decisions.
- Heightened levels of stress and physical pain.
- General irritability.
We’ve all experienced these symptoms at one time or another and know how debilitating they can be. If they’re prolonged, all aspects of life will suffer.
Chronic insomnia has been linked to poor heart health, obesity, and dangerous driving. You must always enjoy some sleep each night for the sake of yourself and those around you.
Broken Sleep vs. No Sleep
If you’re struggling with sleep – dozing off or staying asleep once your head hits the pillow – you may be tempted to stay up all night.
Regardless of how poor your sleep may have been overnight, dozing for a while is always preferable. Getting 2+ hours of sleep will conclude one sleep cycle.
However, sleeping for just 2 hours isn’t sufficient to operate at full capacity in the morning.
One sleep cycle won’t sustain the human body any better than one meal of 500 calories for the entire day. You’ll feel tired and want to catch up on sleep overnight.
You’ll feel groggier when roused from 1 hour of sleep than you would 2. It’s akin to hitting the snooze button on an alarm clock because you’re being wrenched from sleep mid-cycle.
If you don’t sleep, you’ll struggle throughout the day. You may feel okay initially, as adrenaline keeps you going, but before long, you’ll fade faster than if you got a few hours of sleep.
Surviving A Day on Limited Sleep
It’s difficult to struggle through a day after a night of poor sleep. Certain techniques can help you make it through to the evening, when the opportunity to rest presents itself.
Begin your morning routine as best you can. You may need caffeine, but avoid packing your body with too many artificial stimulants. These may interrupt your sleep again, creating a vicious circle.
Try to make it through the day without a nap. If your energy levels are flagging, indulge in light exercise outside in the sun. This may sound counter-productive, but the endorphins will energize you.
Perhaps the most important thing is identifying the cause of the night of broken sleep.
If you can’t determine why you struggled to sleep, reassess your lifestyle and behavior throughout the preceding day. You can recover from one night of interrupted sleep.
How To Fix Interrupted Sleep
One of the dangers of interrupted sleep is when it becomes a habit.
You’ll be okay if you wake up at 2 AM to use the bathroom once. If you do the same again the following night, it’s frustrating but coincidental. Three nights or more becomes a routine that must be broken.
According to the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, habits are tough to break. If you have interrupted sleep, review your lifestyle during the day.
Ways to enhance the likelihood of a night of unbroken sleep include:
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, etc.) and other artificial stimulants after midday.
- Get at least 30 minutes of mild to moderate cardio exercise per day.
- Don’t eat or drink for at least 2 hours before bed.
- Avoid napping in the afternoon. If you must close your eyes, ensure it’s several hours before bed.
You can also practice techniques to resolve broken sleep. It may not be an overnight process, but you’ll eventually conquer your tendency to wake up during the night.
Practice Sleep Hygiene Before Bed
Sleep hygiene involves creating and maintaining a ritual and routine before heading to bed to increase your chances of a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
Steps involved in sleep hygiene include:
- Have a set bedtime, ideally no less than 8 hours before your alarm is set.
- Avoid exposure to TV, cell phone, and computer screens for at least 1 hour before bed.
- Shower to reduce your body temperature and increase your desire to sleep.
- Don’t spend time in the bedroom unless you want to sleep or share intimacy with a partner.
Do what you can to clear your mind before getting into bed, aiming to let the worries and concerns of your waking life fade away for a few hours.
The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences recommend meditation to bolster the chances of uninterrupted sleep. It can become a beneficial component of sleep hygiene.
Prepare a Bedroom for Sleep
Ensure the bedroom is appropriate. Things to consider include:
- Temperature. It’s far easier to sleep in a cool room. While air conditioning is the easiest way to achieve this, there are ways to keep cool at night without AC.
- Layout. If you’re struggling to sleep well at night, question whether your feng shui may be to blame. For example, did you know that sleeping beside a mirror is bad?
- Peripherals and equipment. Remove electrical appliances from the bedroom before getting into bed. For example, there’s no need to sleep next to a laptop.
- Noise. Will you sleep better in silence or with ambient noise? Investigate white noise machines or free online recordings of background sounds.
If your bedroom is appropriately equipped for sleep, you’re likelier to fall asleep quickly.
Review Sleeping Positions and Arrangements
Could your sleeping position be responsible for broken sleep? Try changing to a different posture in bed, including elevating the legs while you sleep.
You may also need to consider whether sharing a bed with a partner or a pet contributes to broken sleep. Is your partner snoring and keeping you from enjoying a full night of rest?
Is a pet fidgeting, making noise, or aggravating allergies overnight? Would this situation be improved by changing where your dog sleeps or by adding an air purifier?
Change Your Sleep Schedule
Consider adjusting your sleep schedule. This involves separating your daily sleep allowance into slots or reversing your sleep-wake cycle.
Ideally, never sleep for less than 2 hours, so you get 4 periods of sleep during the day. 2 blocks of 4 hours is even likelier to be effective. If you establish a routine this way, the body will adjust.
Reversal of your sleep-wake cycle would involve getting 8 hours of sleep during the day. Of course, this won’t work if you have a 9-to-5 job or a family.
It’ll also affect your circadian rhythms, which rely upon natural sunlight. If it’s the only way to enjoy sufficient uninterrupted sleep, it’s better than nothing.
Regarding sleep, anything over 2 hours is always better than nothing.
If you’re awake at 3 AM with an alarm set for 6 AM, don’t power through the next 3 hours. You can squeeze in 1 sleep cycle, which will leave you feeling better in the morning.