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7 Ways to Get More Deep Sleep

Lara Vargas

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Sleep is essential for life. Like water and oxygen, the body can only go so long without healthy sleep before shutting down. If you’re clocking the recommended eight hours a night, but still waking up feeling tired and groggy, reflect on your quality, not quantity, of rest. You may not be getting enough deep sleep.

Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep or delta sleep, is the most reparative stage of the sleep cycle. During this time, our bodies and minds are refreshed and restored. Sleep medicine is still trying to understand exactly how deep sleep works, but its importance is undeniable.

There is no foolproof way to monitor short wave sleep at home. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted rest each night— this ensures your body will cycle through each stage of sleep five or six times.

To improve your night’s sleep, we recommend brushing up on your sleep hygiene and following a nightly bedtime routine. In this post, we provide some pointers.

1. Limit Screen Time

limit screen time to get better sleep
Many of us wind down at the end of the day by looking at some type of screen. Whether it is your TV, phone, computer, or tablet, it is not helping you relax before bedtime. Instead, it is doing the opposite. The blue light emitted by screens impacts your circadian rhythm. Your body does not realize its bedtime and delays melatonin production. This can affect not only the amount of sleep you get each night, but also the quality.

2. Don’t Toss and Turn

If you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and leave your bedroom. Read a book, practice breathing exercises, or do another calming activity until you begin to feel tired. Forcing yourself to sleep rarely works, instead, it creates an association between being in bed and not being able to fall asleep.

3. Avoid Caffeine in the Evening

avoid caffeine for better sleep

Caffeine wakes us up by increasing adrenaline and blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. This is good news for us in the morning but bad news at night.

For most people, partaking in caffeine in the morning and stopping by 3 p.m. (or approximately 6 hours from bedtime) is sufficient. Nevertheless, some people are more sensitive to caffeine and should limit it to mornings only or abstain altogether. To figure out whether you have a sensitivity to caffeine, keep a sleep journal tracking your caffeine intake — including coffee, tea, and chocolate — and your sleep patterns.

4. Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Yes, that means on weekends too.

When you do not go to sleep and wake up at the same time, your body’s internal clock is constantly resetting itself. The result is difficulty falling asleep in the evening and trouble waking up in the morning. Irregular sleep patterns have been linked to cardiometabolic disease.

5. Exercise Daily

exercise daily for better sleep

Get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day –– just not before bedtime. Regular physical activity reduces sleep latency and facilitates deeper, more undisturbed rest. Research shows early morning and afternoon workouts— specifically cardio exercises— increase the length of time people spend in slow-wave sleep.

If you want to utilize exercise to improve your night’s sleep, start by penciling an early morning run into your routine. Studies have found morning runs bolster your natural sleep cycle and prompt you to start producing melatonin earlier in the evening.

6. Create the Perfect Sleep Environment

Your bedroom should be dark and quiet. Use blackout curtains if you can see street or car lights from your bedroom windows. Unless safety is a concern, skip the nightlight. A dark room sends a signal to your body that it is time to sleep.

Set your room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees. It may feel good to bundle up with flannel pajamas and warm covers while you fall asleep, but overheating can influence your sleep quality.

7. Be Mindful of Meals

be mindful of meals

Avoid heavy foods or large meals too close to bedtime. Not only does your body expel energy digesting these foods while you sleep, but because you are lying flat on your back, eating too close to bedtime can cause heartburn and GERD.

Eat your last meal three hours before bedtime, and try to incorporate some of the best foods for sleep into your dinnertime diet. Eating sleep-promoting foods, such as whole grains or fruits like cherries, can induce drowsiness and help you sleep more soundly.

If you are getting 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, each night and you are still not feeling well rested, consult a physician. You may have an undiagnosed sleep disorder, like sleep apnea, that is affecting your deep sleep. Your doctor may request a sleep study to analyze your sleeping habits.

What Is Deep Sleep?

Understanding sleep can help you get better rest. Many people believe that REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is deep sleep, but this is not the case. During REM sleep, your brain activity increases. During deep sleep, brain activity decreases. Brain waves, heart rate, and breathing all slow down so your body can restore itself— this is why deep sleep is the most rejuvenating part of the sleep cycle. It is hard to feel like you have a good night’s sleep without it.

The Stages of Sleep

After a period of wakefulness, the sleep cycle is divided into four stages:

  • Stage W (Wakefulness): Stage W is the first stage of sleep when your head hits the pillow and you close your eyes. The brain produces beta waves, followed by alpha waves as you relax.
  • Stage 1 (Non-REM 1): In this stage, the brain produces high amplitude theta waves. N1 is the transition period between Stage W and sleep. It lasts no more than 10 minutes.
  • Stage 2 (Non-REM 2): During N2 sleep, the brain produces rhythmic spindle waves. Body temperature drops and heart rate slows down. Half of your time sleeping is spent in this stage.
  • Stage 3 (Non-REM 3): Stage N3 starts with spindle waves, then slower delta waves begin. This is when deep sleep occurs. People are difficult to wake during Stage N3, even when surrounded by activity and noise. Sleep disorders, like sleepwalking, often occur during Stage N3.
  • Stage 4 (REM): REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is when the brain transitions out of deep sleep and becomes more active. Dreams occur during REM sleep and muscles relax. People spend about 20% of their sleep in Stage 4.

Every sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes to complete. You usually enter Stage 3 of deep sleep five or six times a night as your body goes through the sleep cycle. The first period of Stage 3 sleep is the longest— lasting about 45-90 minutes. Each subsequent period of deep sleep is shorter until you wake up.

Without an EEG to show the high-amplitude, low-frequency delta waves of deep sleep, the surest way to know if someone is sleeping deeply is if they are difficult to awaken.

Why Does Your Body Need Deep Sleep?

Deep sleep is critical to physical and mental health. Glucose metabolism increases during deep sleep, which boosts memory and information processing. Scientists believe that the consolidation of memories occurs during slow-wave sleep. This is why it is common to feel foggy or forgetful when you are sleep-deprived.

“Neuroprotection is the essential function of sleep,” advises Dr. Brian Wu. “According to a Health and Human Services study, the neuroprotective aspects of sleep have been proven to improve memory recall, regulate metabolism, and reduce mental fatigue.”

The pituitary gland is also hard at work during sleep. The hormones it secretes support body growth and development. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released during slow-wave sleep. This hormone is critical for building and repairing tissue throughout the body. The body repairs tissues and regenerates cells during deep sleep. The result is the unmistakable feeling of waking up well-rested.

How Much Deep Sleep Do You Need?

For most adults, about 20% of your sleep time should be spent in slow-wave sleep. As we age, the need for deep sleep decreases. Adults over the age of 65 may not go through the N3 stage of sleep at all, or if they do, it may be several minutes instead of hours. Conversely, the amount of deep sleep children need is higher.

So how can you know you are getting enough deep sleep? You cannot.

Unless you are hooked up to an EEG to monitor your brain waves, it is difficult to know how much deep sleep you are getting each night. Fitness and sleep trackers may claim to analyze your sleep quality, but they are not always accurate. Ultimately, judging your sleep health often comes down to keeping track of how you feel each day.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Deep Sleep?

Extended sleep deprivation decreases your quality of life. Because deep sleep supports the memory, you may feel foggy and groggy without it. Learning is difficult when you cannot concentrate. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and irritability are common. You may find yourself getting sick more often because of a weakened immune system, too. Most of all, you will feel exhausted. Getting better sleep will improve your overall well-being.

There are more serious health problems caused by sleep deprivation too. Some scientists believe that the lack of quality sleep may be linked to stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The brain clears free radicals during sleep, so oxidative damage may occur when a person is sleep-deprived, as well.

Getting the Deep Sleep You Need

Deep sleep is essential to overall health. During slow wave sleep, your body consolidates memories, repairs tissue, recovers from stress, and prepares for the next day.

The best answer as to how to get more deep sleep is to increase your total sleep time. Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night will usually ensure you are going through the restorative deep sleep stages. Lastly, if you are getting enough hours of sleep, but do not feel rested, consult with your doctor to see if you have a more serious sleep disorder.

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