Sleep disruptions can do a lot of harm, and you might be experiencing more than you remember.
Feeling sleep deprived is common today—considered a natural consequence of our busy, modern lives. And the fact is, at least one-third of Canadian adults aren’t getting enough sleep1. But it’s not just a function of how many hours of shuteye we’re getting; just as important is the quality of those hours. Disruptions in our sleep are actually a healthy, normal occurrence, but in excess they can have a major impact on your sleep quality, and consequently, your mental and physical health.
Types of Disruptions
Sleep disturbances (also known as sleep arousals) are short interruptions in your sleep that you usually won’t remember at all, typically lasting between 3 and 15 seconds. They lead you into a lighter phase of sleep but are healthy and necessary, since shifting to a lighter phase of sleep gives your body the ability to wake up.
When disruptions last more than 15 seconds, they are considered awakenings:
a transition from sleep to wake, which typically brings you back to consciousness. You might remember some of these, depending how long the wake period lasts and the depth of sleep preceding it. Like disturbances, brief awakenings are considered normal in healthy adults, particularly in non-REM sleep. But spending more than 10% of your time in bed awake could be a cause for concern.
The number of disruptions that are considered normal changes with age2:
|Ages 18 to 34||Less than 10 per hour||≤10% of time in bed|
|Ages 35 to 49||Less than 13 per hour||≤10% of time in bed|
|Ages 50 to 64||Less than 17 per hour||≤10% of time in bed|
|Over the age of 65||Less than 19 per hour||≤10% of time in bed|
What causes disruptions?
Natural disruptions in sleep occur spontaneously, but specific factors in your body and environment can increase their frequency, reducing your sleep quality.
- Sleep disorders (e.g. sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy)
- Body movements such as periodic limb movements (PLMs)
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Environmental factors (e.g. noises, lights)
- Medical conditions (e.g. pain, lung diseases, psychiatric disorders)
- Lifestyle factors (e.g. excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol or shift work)
- Medications (i.e. side effects from medications or controlled drugs)
What happens when there are too many disruptions?
An excessive number of sleep disruptions impacts both the amount and the quality of sleep you’re getting. Short-term, poor sleep can lead to daytime tiredness, impaired attention, and reduced motor control.
There can also be more serious consequences to your health, including:
- Mood disorders
- Cognition, memory and performance issues
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Colorectal cancer
- Increased mortality in men
Are some people more prone to sleep disruptions?
The short answer is, yes. Sleep Sensitivity, an emerging sleep performance metric from Cerebra, is showing promise in defining how naturally susceptible you are to the disruptive factors that occur in your body and environment.
What can I do about it?
If you suspect you’re not getting the amount or quality of sleep you need, consider a sleep study. Because disruptions usually occur without remembering them, capturing brain activity while you sleep is the only way to learn how many are occurring and why. Addressing major sources of disruptions can help you get a better night’s sleep.
Today, at-home options like Cerebra sleep study provide lab-quality measurements of your sleep but with the convenience and comfort of doing a study in your own home.
- Boulos, M. et al. (2019). Normal polysomnography parameters in healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Respir. Med. 1-11