It’s quite common for some people to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom or drink a glass of water. But what happens over time when you develop a condition where you get up at night but find it tough to go back to sleep? Intermittent sleeping can affect your sleep pattern and disrupts the sleep continuity. Experts say that only lifestyle changes can be a solution for this sleep problem.
Many people develop this condition, which then invariably affects their entire lifestyle. According to a 2010 study of 8,937 people that was published in Sleep Medicine, it was estimated that about one-third of American adults wake up at night at least three times a week. Moreover, more than 40 per cent of that group may have trouble falling back to sleep again (also referred to as sleep maintenance insomnia).
Intermittent sleep is a growing problem for adults worldwide. “Individuals may not perceive intermittent sleep as an immediate threat to the well-being of their body, but if not correctly rectified, it could lead to long-term consequences,” Dr K Vinod, consultant pulmonologist, Veturi Polyclinic and Diagnostic Centre, Bengaluru, told Happiest Health.
Why do you wake up in the middle of the night?
‘Sleep quality in patients with chronic illness’, a 2016 research paper by Mary Kemple, Sinead O’Toole, and Conor O’Toole, found significant evidence that “chronically disturbed sleep can increase the disease burden on patients with chronic illness”. Therefore, irregular sleeping and any form of chronic illness are directly related to each other in a way that the existence of one condition could impact the other.
Dr Vinod says people with underlying lung conditions experience disrupted sleep. “Usually, people with sleep apnoea, who are obese or have a history of snoring, experience a recurrent awakening from sleep,” he says. “Their underlying condition compromises their sleep, restricting them from getting a peaceful sleep. Other things like taking too much stress will also lead to the same thing.”
The timing and length of waking up at night will differ from person to person. For example, some people may experience several breaks, and others may wake up for an extended period as they try to fall asleep again. Experts say restless leg syndrome, nocturia, chronic pain, anxiety and increased consumption of alcohol and caffeine are among the conditions and factors that may cause a person to develop an intermittent sleep pattern.
Sleep continuity gone for a toss?
Hormones also play a critically important role in ensuring good-quality sleep. Melatonin and cortisol, also called sleep hormone and stress hormone, respectively, are responsible for regulating and maintaining a steady sleep pattern. Not getting continuous sleep will cause hormonal imbalance in the body.
Conditions like sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and sleep apnoea are linked to poor hormonal balance in the body. Dr Shantanu Tandon, senior ENT surgeon, airway and sleep apnea specialist, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru, describes SDB as “a common spectrum of abnormal respiration caused by upper airway obstruction, e.g., apnoeas, hypopneas, etc. Along with behavioural causes such as increased screen time in children, adenoid and tonsillar enlargement and allergies are common causes of SDB.”
Many studies have linked sleep disruptions to neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It is also suggested that long-term consequences of repeated awakenings and difficulty in falling asleep can lead to weight gain, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, etc.
When to see the doctor?
If you have been experiencing persistent intermittent sleep for a prolonged period, it is advised that you immediately consult a doctor. You should also see a sleep specialist if you have mood changes during the day, increased daytime sleepiness, loud or continuous snorting, and abnormal breathing patterns during sleep.
Several sleep specialists also recommend maintaining a sleep diary to record your sleeping pattern. It will keep track of your symptoms and aid the doctor in making a precise diagnosis of your condition. You can prevent the early onset of intermittent sleeping by implementing lifestyle changes like changing the sleeping environment, taking less stress, being physically active, following a steady routine prior to bedtime, and so on.