Fragmented Sleep: What It Is and Why You Want It to Stop

why can’t i sleep with depression

The primary manifestations of a mood or anxiety disorder are enough to knock us on our keisters. But then there are what I call “back-page” symptoms. You may not find them in DSM-5 criteria, but they add a very bitter frosting on the affect and anxiety cake. One of these is fragmented sleep, so let’s dig-in and see what we can see…

It’s been said that a night of fragmented sleep is akin to staying up the entire night.

Last week I brought you “Antidepressants & Sleep: Not Always the Best of Friends. What Now?” The article emphasized the hard news that just about every antidepressant, in some manner, has a negative impact upon sleep. We reviewed some options, and pertaining to one particular med I mentioned it improves a depression-common sleep impairment known as sleep fragmentation.

As I wrote the piece I knew a separate article was warranted. So here we go, beginning with a general discussion of sleep…

Sleep: What’s the Big?

In these days of 24/7 accessibility to intense brain and body stimulation, this natural fact often hides under the covers: sufficient quality sleep, at the right times, is just as essential to our survival as food and water. In addition to its contribution to life-sustaining brain functions, recent research suggests sleep plays a crucial housekeeping role, removing brain toxins that build-up while we’re awake.

Doubt the importance of sleep? Then explain why powerful brain anatomy such as the hypothalamus, brain stem, thalamus, cerebral cortex, pineal gland, basal forebrain, midbrain, and the amygdala play starring roles in the facilitation of sleep. And what about the mechanisms circadian rhythm and homeostasis?

The natural fact: they’re part of us because sleep is essential to life.

Sleep: Stages

Okay, we need to review the stages of sleep before we get into its fragmentation. Simply, there are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM, the latter having three different stages. It’s intended that each of us cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM sleep several times during a typical night (day), with increasingly longer and deeper REM periods occurring toward morning.

So the cycle is three non-REM stages followed by a REM stage. The third non-REM stage is designed to provide the deep sleep required for feeling refreshed when we wake-up. For more information on the stages, hit the link to the article I used for reference at the end.

Fragmented Sleep

For anything having to do with sleep, including the medical side of the fence, mattress and pillow guides and reviews, a blog, and more, Tuck: Advancing Better Sleep is the place to go. So much so that I used their information on fragmented sleep as reference. You’ll find a link to the page at the end.

Fragmented sleep (sleep fragmentation) is defined as numerous brief arousals throughout any given primary sleep period. This doesn’t include what are known as microarousals (normal tossing and turning, changing of positions).

It’s important to keep in mind that fragmented sleep is about all-out awakenings that are remembered. Now, some folk can resume sleep fairly easily, while others struggle. In either case, we’re dealing with a significant sleep interruption – with consequences.

Some who suffer from fragmented sleep have a co-occurring condition known as sleep-maintenance insomnia. These people would say they have no problem falling asleep, but maintaining it is another matter.

The bottom-line with fragmented sleep is the interruption – incompletion – of our natural sleep cycle, with all its intended stages. And that’s a problem.

Fragmented Sleep: What’s the Big?

i have depression and can't sleep

Well, it doesn’t take the world’s foremost sleep expert to figure-out that fragmented – unrefreshing, unsatisfying – sleep can go well beyond annoyance.

Yep, sorry to say fragmented sleep can result in some serious health consequences. These can include extreme daytime sleepiness, exacerbated depression, anxiety, and (hypo)mania, impaired insulin management, cardiovascular issues, and weight gain.

And that weight gain? Fragmented sleep can cause a lowered metabolism and increased cortisol levels, which can generate an increase in appetite and decrease in one’s ability to burn calories.

It’s been said that a night of fragmented sleep is akin to staying up the entire night. And how ’bout this? In a recent study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, it’s submitted that just one night of fragmented sleep sliced “happiness” levels by some 33%.

How to Make It Stop

There are a variety of ways to assist in making fragmented sleep a thing of the past, many of them focusing upon sleep hygiene. Unfortunately, there isn’t the space to share the information here; however, Tuck has us covered. Do yourself a favor and tap the link at the end.

But I will share a funny story. I was talking with my PCP about my sleep issues several months back. ‘Course, I had to fess-up re my lousy sleep hygiene (goofing around with my cell phone when I should be sleeping). Her response was beautiful: “Mr. White, the bed is for two things – sleep and sex.”

Let’s Get Some Sleep

As you likely know, most of the articles here on Chipur are grounded in my life experience. It wasn’t too awful long ago that I came to the conclusion that I have fragmented sleep. Thing is, though, I wouldn’t have known it – and commenced pursuing remedies – had I not bumped into some much needed information.

And now you have.

Thanks to the National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for the general sleep info.

And thank you to Tuck for their fragmented sleep page.

Last but not least, be sure to check-out the hundreds of Chipur mood and anxiety disorder-related titles.