Why WASO Has a Negative Effect on Sleep Quality

The condition is more likely to strike people with insomnia

A women suffering from insomnia.
A women suffering from insomnia. Tetra Images/Getty Images

If you've ever woken up during the middle of the night, you've experienced the bothersome condition known as "wake after sleep onset," which is largely known by the abbreviation WASO.

Get the facts about WASO, its impact on sleep quality and the individuals it's most likely to affect with this review of the health problem.

How Researchers Use WASO

Medical researchers often use the term WASO in sleep studies to define the amount of time test subjects have spent awake after initially falling sleep and before they awaken for good.

For example, an individual may go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and suddenly rouse from slumber at 2:30 a.m. and remain awake until 3:45 a.m.

Perhaps the person awakened to use the bathroom but couldn't fall asleep again immediately after he finished, or perhaps he awakened because he was hot or simply anxious about the events that transpired the day before or that he expected to transpire the following day. After awakening in the middle of the night, the individual finally falls back asleep and gets up for good at 6:30 a.m.

Because he woke up during the middle of the night, he ultimately got a total of five hours and 45 minutes of sleep. That's less than the National Sleep Foundation's recommendation that adults between the ages of 26 and 64 get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. As a result the individual who stayed up for more than an hour during the night may not feel energized and refreshed upon waking for good but tired and sluggish.

Which People Are Most Likely to Experience WASO?

People who have difficulty staying asleep are most likely to experience WASO. These individuals may suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia or medical conditions such as restless leg syndrome, arthritis or heart disease. Women who wake up during the night may be undergoing hormonal changes caused by pregnancy or menopause.

Others who wake up during the night may have difficulty sleeping through the night without making a trip to the bathroom. Older people often have this problem, as do people with a variety of medical conditions. Individuals who suffer from anxiety or who are dealing with stressful situations at home or at work may also have difficulty sleeping through the night.

Treating WASO

Because WASO results in poor sleep efficiency, or the time spent sleeping divided by the time spent in bed, it's important to counteract the condition, if possible. In those with insomnia, WASO may be improved with a treatment called sleep restriction, a kind of behavioral therapy.

Insomnia patients who use sleep restriction work to improve their sleep efficiency. Accordingly, they don't allow themselves to spend hours tossing and turning in bed. Instead, they get out of bed after 15 minutes of wakefulness and go to another room until they feel ready to fall asleep again. These patients may also keep a sleep log to record the amount of time they sleep, wake up and spend in bed.

If you think you're spending too much time awake during the night, consult your physician to pinpoint the most effective ways to treat the problem or to determine if a medical condition, prescription drug or lifestyle habit might be a factor.