Fragmented sleep means an interruption of nocturnal slumber.
Various factors, such as stress, anxiety, and other medical conditions, can compound these difficulties. To reduce the effects of sleep fragmentation, it is important to establish good sleep hygiene practices, such as a regular sleep schedule and limiting caffeine and alcohol. This form of insomnia can also be managed by incorporating relaxation techniques or cognitive behavioral therapy. Reducing sleep fragmentation can help improve your overall sleep quality and health. Specifically, the study found that restlessness was associated with reduced emotional resilience in participants. Participants who experienced fragmented sleep reported higher levels of distress in response to negative events, indicating that fragmented sleep was linked to lower emotional resilience. The results of this study suggest that interrupted night sleep can lead to an increased risk of experiencing negative emotions. Therefore, ensuring that individuals receive adequate sleep to maintain emotional resilience is essential.
What we know about fragmented sleep
A recent study published in Cognition and Emotion has highlighted how fragmented sleep is associated with a reduced ability to control our emotions. Specifically, one night of fragmented sleep led study participants to fixate their thoughts on negative ideas, which was significantly associated with stronger negative feelings the next day. Fragmented sleep results from brief awakenings at night, leading to poor sleep quality. Such disrupted sleep not only leaves individuals tired the following morning but also often leads to a decline in a positive mood and an increase in a negative mood. However, the exact mechanism of why sleep impacts our emotions is poorly established.
On the other hand, maladaptive strategies involve attempting to change the emotion through avoidance or suppression or engaging in behavior that is unlikely to be helpful, such as substance use. Interestingly, studies have found that fragmented sleep can lead to increased use of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies and decreased use of adaptive strategies. This could be one of the reasons why fragmented sleep can lead to an increased risk of emotional difficulties.
Radboud University’s research on fragmented sleep and its influence on emotional and cognitive condition
Sleep fragmentation, when sleep is broken up into short segments throughout the night, can seriously affect mental health. Merel Elise Boon and colleagues from Radboud University in the Netherlands sought to explore how fragmented sleep impacts emotion regulation strategies and mood. The study found that when sleep was fragmented, individuals were likelier to use inefficient strategies such as suppression, rumination, and self-criticism to regulate their emotions. This, in turn, resulted in an overall negative effect on their mood.
How the study was performed
Fragmented sleep was chosen as the manipulation because it has been linked to poorer sleep quality and cognitive performance. To assess the effects of fragmented sleep, sixty-nine Radboud University students aged 18 to 29 were monitored over 12 days. The participants wore an “Actiwatch” on their wrist each night, which objectively tracks sleep through movement. In addition, they filled out a sleep diary each morning to provide subjective details about their sleep. On day six, either a control night of normal sleep was provided or a night of fragmented sleep was induced by waking the participants up every 80 minutes with an alarm. Fragmented sleep was used as the manipulation due to its association with lower sleep quality and poorer cognitive performance.
The fragments of sleep that they had experienced the night before did not affect the results of this task. On the seventh day, the participants went through an emotion regulation endeavor. To even out the emotional state of everyone, a nature documentary video clip with a neutral mood was accessed. After that, a gloomy movie clip was presented as a benchmark. Subsequently, the participants were instructed to employ one of the emotion regulation approaches of cognitive reinterpretation, distraction, approval, or containment before playing a different sad film clip. Regardless of the fragmented sleep they had the night before, it had no bearing on the outcome of this task.
Results from studies on fragmented sleep
The task results showed that the participants who used the cognitive reappraisal strategy had the most significant reduction in their sadness rating compared to the other strategies, which were fragmented or had little effect. The results of this task demonstrate that cognitive reappraisal is an effective way to regulate emotions but that fragmented or minimal use of emotion regulation strategies can be less effective.
Consequently, fragmented sleep may be a risk factor for depression, particularly for those prone to ruminating. Sleep fragmentation appears to increase the propensity for rumination markedly. According to research conducted by Boon and colleagues, participants experienced heightened rumination following fragmented sleep. This was the only emotional regulation strategy investigated associated with stronger negative emotions the morning after fragmented sleep. Poor sleep quality might disrupt the ability to control attention, thus preventing the individual from successfully removing attention from negative thoughts. In the long-term, “the mood impairing effects of rumination following poor sleep… could lead to the onset of depression,” the researchers argued. Thus, wakefulness may be a risk factor for depression, especially among people predisposed to ruminating.
Following fragmented sleep, participants reported more distractions in their daily lives. This prompted the researchers to hypothesize that distraction may have been used as an adaptive response to the increased presence of maladaptive ruminative thoughts. However, the study’s results showed that such distraction diminished positive emotions. Consequently, further research is required to fully understand the relationship between interrupted sleep and distraction.
The study’s authors found no connection between fragmented sleep and positive emotions. Nonetheless, there were a few limitations to their research. One of them was that it was uncertain which sleep stage the participants were roused from. Previous studies have shown that disturbed deep sleep can harm emotion regulation. If the participants were awakened during the light sleep stage, this could have weakened the effect of fragmented sleep on the regulation of emotions.
Research has demonstrated that there are gender-based differences in emotion regulation strategies. While females are more likely to rely on more internally focused strategies such as rumination and suppression of emotions, males tend to employ more externally focused strategies such as distracting themselves from the emotion and seeking social support. These findings suggest that the results of this study may be limited to female participants, as the majority of the population surveyed was female. As such, these results cannot be generalized to the broader population, as most participants were female. This implies that further research, including studies with a more balanced gender-based representation, must ensure that the findings apply to a fragmented population.
Study’s published materials
This research paper by Merel Elise Boon, M.L.M. Wouter Van den Hooff, J.M. Vink, and Sabine A. E Geurts, titled “The effect of fragmented sleep on emotion regulation ability and usage,” looks into the short-term impacts of inadequate sleep quality on emotional states. Despite a few limitations, the study provides a worthwhile exploration of the effects of poor sleep quality. It could serve as a base for further studies into the long-term consequences of poor sleep quality.
Fragmented sleep can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration, and daytime sleepiness. Fragmented sleep is characterized by multiple, short interruptions at night, resulting in excessive tiredness during the day. It is not considered a sleep disorder itself, though it can be a symptom of one. People with fragmented sleep typically fall asleep quickly but wake up multiple times during the night for brief periods. These sleep fragmentations are not natural awakenings like those experienced by humans but rather disturbances that lead to sleep interruptions that are remembered during the day.
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