Interrupted Sleep May Be Worse than Sleep Deprivation

Man sitting up in bed unable to sleepMost sleep research focuses on the inability to fall asleep, but people who have trouble staying asleep may experience more negative moods. According to a new study published in the journal Sleep, interrupted sleep for three or more consecutive nights produces worse symptoms than inadequate sleep due to staying up too late. About 10% of Americans experience insomnia, and frequent wakefulness during the night is one of the most common symptoms.

The Effects of Interrupted Sleep

To study how various sleep disturbances affect well-being, researchers recruited 62 healthy men and women with normal sleep patterns, then divided them into three groups. A control group slept through the night without being interrupted, another group had a later-than-usual bedtime, and the third group was awakened eight times during the night. The pattern repeated for three days.

Researchers assessed study participants’ moods each day. The day after the first night of sleep deprivation, both the later-than-usual bedtime group and the interrupted sleep group had similarly poor moods. By the second night, clear differences had emerged. Members of the interrupted sleep group had a 31% decrease in positive mood, compared to 12% among those who went to bed later than usual. The two groups did not have any noteworthy differences in negative mood, which suggests the problem with interrupted sleep is that it interferes with positive feelings rather than creating negative ones.

The challenge with interrupted sleep, the study’s authors emphasize, is that it interferes with the body’s ability to go through all stages of sleep, including the deepest sleep that usually results in a feeling of restoration in the morning.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

The National Sleep Foundation recently changed its sleep guidelines for adults. The organization now recommends that adults ages 18-64 get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Seniors age 65 and older should aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

Good sleep habits can help combat various sleep disorders and encourage better sleep quality. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

  • Turn off smartphones and other screens when you sleep, and do not sleep with them in the bed.
  • Limit food intake directly before bedtime.
  • Get plenty of natural sunlight to help regulate your circadian rhythms.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake, especially in the hours before bedtime.
  • Develop a sleep routine that relaxes you. Avoid upsetting conversations, stressful movies, and other things that might keep you up before bed.
  • If you struggle to fall asleep at night, avoid napping during the day.


  1. Interrupted sleep impacts mood more than lack of sleep, study finds. (2015, November 2). Retrieved from
  2. National Sleep Foundation recommends new sleep times. (2015, February 2). Retrieved from
  3. Preidt, R. (2015, October 30). Interrupted sleep not good for your mood, study suggests. Retrieved from
  4. Sleep hygiene. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • carolee

    November 5th, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    This is me!!

    I never have that much of a problem when it comes to going to sleep, but there are nights when I will fall asleep and then wake up continuously all throughout the night.
    I think that you are right- the nights when I do this I am so horrible the next day, just because I never got enough rest to really feel refreshed.

  • Betsy

    November 6th, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    If you asked any new parents though I think that most of them would say that nope, any amount of sleep is good whether it is interrupted or not.

  • Jacqueline

    November 6th, 2015 at 5:17 PM

    Betsy made a good point and that is definitely true for anyone with lack of sleep who is truly exhausted.. However I think what the article implies is that those without a good full 7-9 hours sleep will most like be crankier, than those who did. I’ve been through the baby stage before, and now I’m going through peri menopause and wake up several times every night with night sweats or full bladder.. So not only am I’m I hormonal, I’m cranky because I never get good sleep anymore.

  • Dianna S.

    November 6th, 2015 at 5:45 PM

    I never get more than 3-4hr.s sleep at a time due to pain. Those are the good nights. Usually it’s 2hr.s. There’s no way to fix it as sleep aides leave me feeling awful and I still wake up anyway. Even holistic aides like melatonin don’t help. Once I’m awake I can’t go back to sleep until I can get a grip on the pain. Any suggestions?

  • ledona

    November 7th, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    I have had insomnia with interrupted sleep (waking every 11/2 to 2 hours)for about 30yrs,I don’t dream and I feel wore out and tired all the time and have to take a nap in the daytime.I’ve tried therapy,many different sleeping pills,I make my room dark and quiet at bedtime but nothing has ever worked,what I would give to sleep for even4 or 6 hours without waking up.

  • Dr. Chantal Gagnon

    November 7th, 2015 at 9:46 AM

    Very interesting! I’d bet there’s a link with postpartum depression. New parents often have months (or years) of interrupted sleep after the birth of a child. Plus, being awakened by a crying baby can cause an adrenal response, leading to more physiological stress and this can affect mood and well-being. -Dr. Chantal Gagnon, Good Therapy Expert Contributor on Postpartum Depression

  • katie

    November 9th, 2015 at 4:10 PM

    mom of three
    all small
    none like to sleep thru the night
    i will take what I can get

  • Deb C

    November 10th, 2015 at 1:20 PM

    For at least 20 years, I struggled with staying asleep. I would go to bed and fall asleep as soon as I closed my book and turned off my light. Then I’d wake up about 3-4 hours later…wide awake. I tried everything…warm bath, melatonin, ambient, meditation, acupuncture…finally I was introduced to a new product that combines GABA, Passion Flower Extract, Chamomile and L-Theanine. For the past 6 months, I’ve been able to sleep thru the night. I never really realized how sleep deprived I was until I started get a full 7-8 hours of sleep.

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