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Is Disrupted Sleep As Bad As Complete Sleep Deprivation?

Last updated June 3, 2016

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

What happens when you don't sleep? And why do we need to do it anyways? Hank Green from Vlog Brothers explains the science of sleep: the cause, the benefits, and who holds the record for going without it!


New parents will tell you how little sleep they get from a newborn baby crying in the middle of the night. This can leave the parents cranky and inattentive throughout the day.

A new study, conducted at Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences, suggests that disturbed sleep can cause fatigue, depression, and confusion, the same symptoms usually experienced by a severely sleep-deprived individual.

Published in the journal Sleep Medicine, two studies were conducted. In the first study, 61 adult participants were recruited to be woken up during their normal sleep times, in order to explore  the consequences externally induced night waking could have on them. Participants were given wrist watches that detected when they were asleep and awake based on body movement.

The researchers discovered that after only one night of disrupted sleep, the participants experienced symptoms of depression, negative emotions, and a short attention span. 

In the second experiment, participants were told to sleep only four hours, half the suggested amount an adult needs. The sleep deprived adults experienced similar consequences as the participants in the first experiment. This showed that interrupted sleep has nearly identical effects as individuals getting half the suggested sleep time.

“Our study shows the impact of only one disrupted night, but we know that these effects accumulate and therefore, the functional price new parents- who awaken three to ten times a night for months on end-pay for common infant sleep disturbance is enormous,” lead author Professor Avi Sadeh said.

Besides the physical effects of interrupted sleep, parents often develop feelings of anger toward their infants and then feel guilty about these negative feelings, she added.

This study was to raise awareness that disruption of sleep could have on daily functioning and mood.

Additional Resource:

Kahn, M., Fridenson, S., Lerer, R., Bar-Haim, Y., & Sadeh, A. (2014). Effects of one night of induced night-wakings versus sleep restriction on sustained attention and mood: a pilot study. Sleep medicine, 15(7), 825-832.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 3, 2016
Last updated: June 3, 2016