Sleepiness throughout the day after minimal shut-eye isn't the only possible consequence. Other problems may include those that affect your immune system, thought process and cardiovascular health.
What is interrupted sleep?
It's recommended that adults and the elderly get 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Waking up once or twice briefly during the night is normal. But interrupted sleep is when you wake up for prolonged periods at least four times over the course of about eight hours. There are four sleep stages your body goes through during the night: non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep (stages 1 to 3) and then REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming.
When a sleep stage is interrupted, your body essentially has to reset and start going through the stages all over again, which could prevent you from getting deep, restorative sleep.
In addition to daytime sleepiness, missing or interrupted sleep can cause: irritability, decreased creativity, increased stress, decreased accuracy, tremors, aches, and memory lapses or loss. It can even cause symptoms similar to ADHD and contribute to increased heart rate variability and risk of heart disease and stroke.
Less than ideal sleep also can lead to an impaired immune system, says Amit Narula, D.O., medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Carroll Hospital. When you lack sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a protein that helps fight inflammation and infection.
"It's easier to get an infection and it could be harder or take longer to get rid of an infection," Narula says.
How to get better sleep
One of the main things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep is avoid alcohol and nicotine, and food and drinks in general, as it gets closer to bedtime. You should also keep a sleep diary to track your habits and patterns so you can share them with your doctor.
Narula also suggests things like:
- Keeping your bedroom dark and cool
- Limiting time in bed to sleep and sex
- Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule
- Avoiding the use of light-emitting screens (television, phone, etc.) before sleep
- Using comfortable bedding
- Keeping pets out of the bedroom
- Not wearing tight clothes to bed
- Another tip: Write down the next day's to-do list so you're not constantly thinking about what you have to do when it's time to call it a night.
"Recent studies have indicated that more than nine hours of sleep in some individuals have been associated with diabetes, heart disease and depression," Narula says.
When to seek treatment
If you're experiencing daytime sleepiness, you may have a sleeping disorder and should see a doctor about it as soon as possible.
The good news is that most sleep disorders are highly treatable. A sleep doctor can determine the cause and severity of your sleep problem as well as treatments and therapies for better sleep. Sleep studies are conducted to diagnose or rule out problems such as sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome and insomnia. They also help evaluate nighttime behaviors such as sleepwalking and REM sleep behavior disorder.
Quality sleep is good not only for your mind, but all of your organs. It's also a time for healing. A number of studies have determined that quality sleep leads to longer, healthier lives.