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Are You Waking More Than You Know?

User Question:

When I fall asleep, I'm out like a light when my head hits the pillow. I have no recollection of ever waking up during the night. Is it possible that I could be waking up and not knowing it? Is this a bad sign? Does this happen to others?

S+ Answer:

It is actually quite common to have awakenings at night that you don't remember, including ones that last up to a minute or more.

Sleep and memory

When we sleep, we lose much of our ability to make new memories—it's actually a kind of amnesia. The ability to remember what happens in our dreams, varies widely from one individual to the next. So-called "high dream recallers," people who retain more memories of their dreams, also spend about twice as much time in periods of wakefulness throughout the night as people with lower dream recall. Scientists posit that it is during these periods of wakefulness that some memory consolidation of dreams may take place.

Some waking is normal

Un-remembered awakenings can be quick, in which you briefly rouse, shift your position in bed, and go back to sleep. You may also have longer awakenings of a minute or so and still not remember them the next day. These longer un-remembered awakenings are normal and can occur at any age. The most important factor is how you feel during the day. If you typically feel rested, alert, and energized during the day, then something in the range of 5-8 brief awakenings throughout the night is likely not something to worry about.

Can cause sleep troubles

On the other hand, if you're feeling tired during the day, then it's possible you may have sleep issues related to un-remembered awakenings. You may be experiencing what sleep scientists call "micro-arousals." Micro-arousals are very short awakenings, lasting less than two seconds. But they often occur many times within a brief period of even five minutes. Micro-arousals can be disruptive to sleep, and are often (but not always) symptoms of larger sleep issues like Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). Both of these disorders are frequently accompanied by fractured sleep and by many un-remembered awakenings. The likelihood of experiencing RLS and PLMS increases with age. Research indicates that 34 percent of adults in their 60s have some symptoms of PLMS.

Check for sleep apnea

It's also possible that sleep apnea could be waking you repeatedly and contributing to daytime fatigue. Most sleep apnea sufferers don't remember their awakenings. For some people, it takes seeing themselves sleeping on video or lab evidence from a sleep assessment to convince them. If you suspect you may suffer from sleep apnea, take this quick questionnaire here to get more information about an in-home apnea-screening test.

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Note: S+ is not a medical device. If you are seeking information on how to treat a sleep disorder, you should talk to your healthcare provider.