Having Your Sleep Interrupted May Be As Bad As Not Getting Any at All

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Photo: Photo: Jade Brookbank/Corbis

New parents — and those of us who simply suck at sleeping — would like to think that waking up in the middle of the night, or a few hours early, doesn't matter, as long as we get enough hours of cumulative sleep. A new study in Sleep Medicine suggests otherwise, and will likely be greeted with sleepily angry murmurs from insomniacs and parents of newborns alike. 

Its authors, as the press release explains, showed a "causal link between interrupted sleep patterns and compromised cognitive abilities, shortened attention spans, and negative moods," and "discovered that interrupted sleep is equivalent to no more than four consecutive hours of sleep."

Here are some of the exhausting specifics:

The study was conducted on student volunteers at [Tel Aviv University]'s School of Psychological Sciences. Their sleep patterns were monitored at home using wristwatch-like devices that detected when they were asleep and when they were awake. The students slept a normal eight-hour night, then experienced a night in which they were awakened four times by phone calls and told to complete a short computer task before going back to sleep after 10-15 minutes of wakefulness. The students were asked each following morning to complete certain computer tasks to assess alertness and attention, as well as to fill out questionnaires to determine their mood. The experiment showed a direct link between compromised attention, negative mood, and disrupted sleep — after only one night of frequent interruptions.

I will not be sending this to my very good friend whose wife is having twins in October.