Disrupted Sleep? No Wonder You’re In a Snit

by Margaret Wood, Freelancer Sept 21, 2017

Symptoms of sleep deprivation often include feeling tired throughout the day, perhaps waking with headaches. Sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, lack of concentration, inability to perform simple tasks, and lack of focus–all of which eventually lead to poor job performance, often getting sacked from your job and wrecked relationships.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to other difficulties:

  • Diminished motor function, making it risky and  dangerous to drive or operate heavy equipment
  • Cognitive functions such as math skills can be affected
  • It can lead to depression
  • And it can ultimately affect work life
  • Leading to a poor quality of life — including physical causes of snoring or sleep apnea and more

In a recent survey, 20% of parents of newborn to 3-year-olds say they experience an average of 3+ awakenings per night. What happens to those of us whose sleep is interrupted for 5 or 10 minutes at a time several times a night? In spite of  its common occurrence, this interrupted sleep pattern had never been thoroughly studied.

In a recent study published in the Sleep Medicine journal , the goal was to determine what impact this disrupted sleep pattern may have on mood and vigilance, (the ability to maintain focus and alertness over prolonged periods).

Results of the Sleep Medicine journal’s study

The group of students had no reported sleep problems. The tests were conducted under 3 separate scenarios.

  1. First, they were tested after 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
  2. Then they were tested after only 4  hours of restricted sleep
  3. Finally,  they were awakened 10 minutes every 90 minutes. During the 10-minute awake periods, they were assigned a  computer task prior to returning to sleep.

The results were as expected:  the ability to remain vigilant decreased, and moodiness, depression, fatigue, and reduced vigor, increased significantly.

Here’s the most interesting part: their scores were just as bad after a night of brief awakenings as they were after getting only four hours of sleep.

In other words, briefly interrupted sleep had the same negative impact on mood and vigilance as did a night of severe sleep restriction.

This study clearly demonstrates the adverse effects of just one night. Imagine what the cumulative effect might be for parents of an infant or young child or a physician on call? Their ability to function at the highest level is severely impacted.

So, what is the take-home message? We need to become more diligent and to seriously consider the adverse impact of interrupted sleep on our ability to function as a whole. In the case of parents, this study makes a great case for shared responsibilities.  In the case of shift workers, doctors, and the like, planning your days so that you get a beneficial level of sleep will allow your mind and body to recuperate properly and keep you on your A-game.

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