Insomnia is a pain. Few things are more irritating than lying in bed, dead tired but confined to consciousness. I’ve had my share of insomnia, but the usual tricks people suggest for drifting away (e.g. relaxing, drinking milk, counting sheep) don’t always work.
A recent publication in Sleep, the official publication of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, takes a different approach. Researchers from University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque tracked 20 adult patients for nearly 2 years. When patients’ sleep was interrupted, researchers had the patients subjectively report why. The results are telling:
Among patients with insomnia with no classic sleep breathing symptoms and therefore low probability of asleep breathing disorder, most of their awakenings were precipitated by a medical condition (sleep disordered breathing), which contrasted sharply with their perceptions about their awakenings.
No patients reported breathing problems as the cause for interrupted sleep. But in 90% of premature awakenings, patients experienced sleep breathing events (apnea, hypopnea, or respiratory effort-related event) moments before being awakened.
What can you take from this? The study suggests that people underestimate the role that difficulty breathing plays in interrupting sleep. If I found myself waking in the middle of the night, I’d probably buy myself one of those breathing-optimized pillows.