Interrupted Sleep: What Happens To Your Body

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


Waking up throughout the night does a lot more than make you exhausted.

There are lots of reasons why you might spend a restless night waking up every few hours, checking the clock, and feeling disappointed that it’s still nowhere near morning. Maybe there’s a new baby who has to be fed regularly, a sick dog who needs frequent trips to the backyard, neighbors who have rocking parties, or just a racing brain that makes staying asleep tough.

Whatever the cause, you're bound to wake up tired the next morning. But that’s not all. There are a few other ways that waking up often throughout the night affects your physical and mental health.

  • Your Brain Isn’t as Sharp. When you wake up throughout the night, your cognitive ability (how fast you can think) and your attention span suffer as much as if you barely slept at all. This helps explain why driving when tired is so dangerous—you can’t react as quickly as you normally would to things like a car suddenly breaking in front of you.
  • You Can’t Remember Things. When sleep isn’t continuous, it’s much harder to learn new skills and make new memories. This also goes for things that you learned the day before a bad night of sleep—your brain needs a long stretch of sleep to commit what you recently learned to memory. It’s not the total amount of sleep that’s important, it’s that the time asleep wasn’t regularly interrupted.
  • Harmful Proteins Don’t Get Cleared Away. Amyloid proteins, which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, get removed from your brain when you get a good night’s sleep. But when people regularly have nights of interrupted sleep, brain imaging shows a buildup of those proteins.
  • You Become a Grump. Waking up throughout the night makes you a lot crankier the next day, unsurprisingly. Being roused from sleep just a few times each night is enough to increase the chances of developing depression.