Fitness Magazine

The Importance of Good Sleep: Interrupted Vs. Abbreviated Sleep

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

The Importance of Good Sleep: Interrupted vs. Abbreviated Sleep

Self Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed
by Edvard Munch

Ayurveda declares sleep as one of the three pillars that endow the body with strength, healthy complexion, and healthy growth that can continue until the full span of life, provided that the individual does not indulge in activities that are detrimental to health. The Ayurvedic texts also describe the maladies that can result from improper sleep, including but not limited to misery, emaciation, weakness, stupor, fatigue, body aches and fever. 

Proper sleep and rest is essential for the well-being of any individual as the body utilizes the sleep time to repair itself of any damage sustained during the waking hours. Good sleep also helps to maintain a healthy immune system and balance our appetites. A good night’s sleep enhances the same positive feelings and states of being that we achieve through our yoga practice. On the other hand, poor quality sleep:

  1. results in failure to sustain and preserve new memory
  2. triggers obesity and other metabolic disturbances
  3. contributes to accidents, falls and traffic mishaps
  4. triggers emotional disturbances
  5. lowers immunity, making the individual more susceptible to degenerative diseases or infections
Several recent studies have shown that lack of sleep or a discontinuous sleep during the night may be deleterious for the brain, and may trigger dementia and increase the risk of stroke symptoms. Unfortunately, we’re a world of unhealthy sleepers. If you compare the world statistics of insomnia and poor quality sleep, it is interesting to note that the numbers are nearly similar throughout the world. Within the USA, more than 30% of the population suffers from insomnia, with more than half of Americans failing to have sound sleep due to tension, work, stress, and/or emotional upheaval. Between 40% and 60% of people over the age of 60 suffer from insomnia, with women up to twice more likely to suffer from insomnia than men. Nearly 10 million people in the U.S. use prescription sleep aids. Thus, the type of sleep and how we are affected by it is of great interest to sleep researchers. In a recent study The Effects of Sleep Continuity Disruption on Positive Mood and Sleep Architecture in Healthy Adults., researchers sought to find out what’s the worst kind of sleep that would trigger poor health: the kind where you go to bed at the normal time but are constantly up every few hours (interrupted sleep), or the kind where you go to bed very late in the night and get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep (abbreviated sleep). In my personal opinion, while both kinds of sleep are unhealthy to the body and mind, people who wake up several times in the night, resulting in what is termed as interrupted sleep—even if they're in bed for eight hours—are more unhealthy than people who sleep for very few hours of sleep that is uninterrupted sleep. The study was conducted on a group of 62 healthy men and women who did not have any issues with sleep and were all good sleepers. The participants spent three days and nights in a sleep lab, with the researchers measuring and analyzing their sleep stages (light to deep slumber) with regard to how much of each stage of sleep each volunteer got every night. The participants were randomly divided into three groups. The first group of 21 participants was woken up several times during the night (interrupted sleep), the second group of 17 was asked to go to sleep very late in the night but their sleep was not interrupted (abbreviated sleep), and the third group of 24 serving as the control went to sleep early and was allowed to sleep uninterruptedly through the night. Participants answered questions about their moods (positive and negative) each evening before dozing off. The researchers also looked at the brain patterns of the individuals through a test called polysomnography. When the researchers compared the mood of all three groups, the first two groups showed a decline in positive mood after the first night. But on the next two nights, the interrupted sleepers continued to report significant decline in positive moods while the abbreviated sleepers did not report any further drop—their mood stayed at about the same level they had reported after the first night. The declining trend in positive mood in the interrupted sleep group occurred regardless of what the participants reported on the negative mood scale. Thus, a disrupted sleep seems to have a stronger effect on dampening positive moods than it does on increasing negative emotions. When the researchers looked at the brain patterns of the sleep groups, they found that the interrupted sleepers showed significantly less “slow wave sleep” (slow wave sleep aka deep sleep is normally associated with feeling rested and rejuvenated), than the other two groups of sleepers that had slept continuously. The significant drop in the slow wave sleep was associated with the striking drop in positive moods, having implications for how everything from stress to depression can affect both sleep and mood. The most important question that is not yet answered by the study is whether interrupted sleep triggers faulty mood behavior or whether carrying negative moods to the bed triggered interrupted sleep. Whatever may be the initiator, it appears that losing slow wave sleep impairs the ability to recover or stabilize positive emotions. The researchers strongly advise that we need to pay attention not just to the quantity or quality of sleep, or the quantity or quality of mood/emotions, but to the combination of both sleep and moods. Living in a hypercompetitive and stressful world with all the demands of work and family obligations, we need to lessen the negative impact on our lives of these demands at least by getting good quality, uninterrupted sleep. In addition to supporting the Ayurvedic concept of sleep being one of the pillars of life, this study appears to offer a reasonable explanation of why this is true.
We have highlighted the importance of sleep through various articles in this blog (see Sleep: A Pillar of Life) and also provided several tips on practices that will help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply (see 5 Tips for Better Sleep, Day to Night: Yoga for Better Sleep, and Proof that Meditation Helps Improve Sleep). I hope after reading this article you will appreciate the importance of good sleep and, if needed, will follow some of our recommendations for achieving it. Remember, good sleep is essential for your health and wellbeing, and if you are experiencing sleep problems, there can be quite a price to pay. 
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