Sleep Health

What’s keeping you up at night? The truth about sleep fragmentation

June 26, 2023
Cecelia Beringer

Do you ever wake up feeling like you’ve slept for only a few hours? If the answer is yes, you may suffer from a common condition known as sleep fragmentation. This article will guide you about fragmented sleep, investigating its causes, effects, and treatments.

What is sleep fragmentation?

Imagine you're attempting to watch a movie and someone pauses or changes the channel every few minutes. You’d be annoyed, frustrated, and bewildered. You would not be able to enjoy the film or follow the plot.

That’s what sleep fragmentation does to your sleep. It is a condition in which you experience several minor interruptions to your sleep during the night. These interruptions can make you feel tired, angry, and inattentive throughout the day, as well as feeling sick.

Sleep fragmentation disrupts your regular sleep cycle. When you sleep, you go through several phases that repeat every 90 to 120 minutes. These stages are light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Each stage serves a particular purpose and provides different benefits to your health and well-being.

While minor sleep interruptions are normal, ongoing sleep fragmentation may indicate a more severe illness known as sleep fragmentation disorder. This disorder is distinguished by repeated brief awakenings at night, resulting in disrupted sleep and a decline in total sleep quality.

Fragmented sleep causes: What's keeping you up at night?

The most common causes of sleep fragmentation are listed below. However, each person’s circumstances are unique and other variables may contribute to their sleep issues. If fragmented sleep persists or impacts one’s health and well-being, it is crucial to visit a doctor or a sleep specialist.

Sleep disorders

Sleep apnea, snoring, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and periodic limb movement  disorder are all sleep disorders that can cause awakening during the night. These problems interfere with the daily respiratory and brain activity patterns required for comfortable sleep.

Mental health issues

Mental issues like stress, depression, bipolar illness, and other mood disorders can make it difficult to fall or remain asleep. These health conditions can also lead to nightmares, racing thoughts, or mental turmoil, making it difficult to relax and sleep peacefully.

Underlying health problems

Chronic pain, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and prostate problems can all cause discomfort, agony, or frequent urination, leading to interrupted sleep.

Menopause and old age

Sleep patterns tend to vary as people age. They may experience less deep sleep, more light sleep, and more awakenings at night. These individuals may have lower melatonin production, which is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Menopause can produce hot flashes, night sweats, and hormonal imbalances, which can impair sleep quality and consistency.


Some drugs, such as antidepressants, stimulants, diuretics, beta-blockers, and corticosteroids might have adverse effects that interfere with sleep. Side effects may include sleeplessness, increased urination, anxiety, agitation, or vivid nightmares. Some drugs may affect the natural levels of neurotransmitters or hormones involved in sleep regulation.

An uncomfortable bedroom

The environment in which a person sleeps can also impact their sleep quality. Temperature, noise, light, humidity, bedding, and mattress can all have an effect on how comfortable, and calm a person feels when sleeping.

A disruptive bed partner

Sharing a bed with someone who snores, moves a lot, has a different sleep pattern, temperature or bedding preferences can lead to fragmented sleep. A bed companion may unintentionally wake the other person by making a noise or touching them. If they have different sleeping patterns or requirements, they could potentially cause tension or anger.

Drinking alcohol

Alcohol is a sedative that some individuals find helps them sleep more quickly. The reduction of REM sleep and the increase in non-REM sleep can disturb the regular sleep phases and cycles. Additionally, drinking alcohol can result in dehydration, more frequent urination, snoring, breathing issues, and hangover symptoms all of which can negatively affect the consistency and quality of sleep.

The impact of sleep fragmentation on mental health

Regarding sleep fragmentation, one area that is concerning is its effect on mental health. Several studies have found a significant link between sleep fragmentation and an increased risk of developing mood disorders such as fragmented sleep anxiety and depression. Fragmented sleep anxiety may become a vicious sleep cycle since stress frequently causes trouble falling or staying asleep, worsening sleep fragmentation.

Sleep fragmentation treatment: Restoring a good night's sleep

If you're having trouble sleeping and feel it’s due to sleep fragmentation, there are remedies and strategies that might help. Finding out why you wake up so frequently is the best way to manage sleep fragmentation. Here are some treatment alternatives and approaches to consider.

Medical disorder treatment

You should contact a doctor or sleep specialist if you have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, or periodic limb movement disorder.  They can examine your sleep to determine what’s wrong. They might offer you a device or medication to help you breathe easier or sleep better.

While non-pharmacological methods should be the first line of treatment, some people may need medication or nutritional supplements to manage their sleep fragmentation.

Prescription medications

To help individuals with severe sleep fragmentation doctors might prescribe sleep aids such as benzodiazepines or non-benzodiazepine hypnotics.  

Over-the-counter options

Antihistamines and melatonin supplements can be used to encourage sleep, but only with caution and under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner.

Lifestyle changes

You can additionally improve your sleep quality and prevent sleep fragmentation by making some fundamental changes in your lifestyle. These include:

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. This can help your body and brain determine when to sleep and when to wake up.

Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine

These substances can keep you awake or disrupt your sleep, and therefore should not be consumed before going to bed, or in the evening.

Eliminate fatty foods

Overeating might make you feel bloated and induce heartburn. Eat moderately before going to bed or late at night.

Making your bedroom comfortable

Make sure that your bedroom is quiet, dimly lit, cozy, and has the right temperature.  To filter out light, noise, heat or cold, use curtains, blinds, earplugs, fans, or air conditioners. Use comfortable bedding and mattresses that suit your preferences.

Keeping naps to a minimum

If you are napping throughout the day, it might become more difficult for you to fall or remain asleep at night. It’s best for you to stay awake until your bedtime even if you feel drowsy during the day.

Regular exercise

Maintaining a consistent exercise routine in the morning or afternoon might help you stay healthy and lower stress. It might make you more tired and sleepy at night. However, avoid exercising late at night because it might keep you awake.

Getting sunlight

In the morning, natural light might help you wake up and adjust your internal clock. It can also improve your attitude and energy levels. Avoid intense light in the evening, since it might confuse your brain and make falling asleep more difficult.

Stress management and relaxation

Anxiety and stress might keep you awake or disrupt your sleep. Use strategies to unwind and cope with stress or grief. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, reading, listening to music, or chatting with someone are a few possibilities. If you want more help, you can consult with a therapist.

Not watching TV, using your phone, or working in bed

All these activities might excite your brain, making it more difficult for you to fall or remain asleep. They may also expose you to intense light, interfering with your sleep patterns. Do not perform these activities before going to bed.

Speaking with your partner

If you share a bed with someone who snores, moves a lot, has a challenging sleep pattern, or has different temperature or bedding choices it might interfere with your sleep. Discuss with your partner how you might improve your sleep together. You can also use earplugs, eye masks, separate blankets, or separate sleeping arrangements to sleep better.

Anxiety treatment

If you suffer from fragmented sleep anxiety, which is characterized by fear of  waking up at night or not getting enough sleep, you may need to treat both your anxiety and your sleep problems. It may be challenging to get to or remain asleep when you’re anxious. You may also feel higher levels of stress and grief throughout the day.

A few options for managing anxiety include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

One can alter the negative thoughts and behaviors that lead to anxiety with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Additionally, it might boost your self-confidence and help you in managing stress.


Some drugs can help alleviate anxiety symptoms. These include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers. You should talk to your doctor before taking any medication for anxiety.

Relaxation techniques

There are some strategies that can help you calm down and relax your body and mind. They include deep breathing, gradual muscle relaxation, guided imagery, mindful meditation, and biofeedback.

When to seek professional help?

It would be best if you talked with a medical expert if you’ve attempted any of the above remedies, but your sleep fragmentation still exists. They can provide suitable treatment options and help determine any underlying medical conditions or sleep disorders causing your interrupted sleep.


In conclusion, millions of people all around the world suffer from sleep fragmentation. You can take preventative measures to address this issue and minimize its impact on your life by becoming aware of sleep fragmentation and its numerous causes. Recognizing the value of good sleep hygiene and finding the proper sleep fragmentation treatment can make all the difference in improving sleep quality, regardless of whether you are coping with sleep fragmentation anxiety or a sleep fragmentation disorder.

Always keep in mind that sleep is crucial to your overall health and happiness. You can take control of your sleep health and enjoy the advantage of higher-quality sleep by tackling sleep fragmentation head-on and deciding to make good adjustments. Take the essential steps to optimize your sleep today to feel rested and energized tomorrow. Don’t let sleep interruptions rule your life.

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