What is Deep Sleep?
We all know that getting your head down for seven, eight, or nine hours of sleep each night is optimum for health and wellbeing – but is it as easy as just tallying up those hours?
The quality and type of sleep you’re getting is just as valuable as the amount of sleep you get each night. One of the most vital stages of sleep is “deep sleep”. This guide discusses what deep sleep is, where it comes in the sleep cycle, and how you can ensure you’re getting enough of it.
How Deep Sleep Fits into the Sleep Cycle
A night’s sleep contains five distinctive stages. The first four are non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stages and the fifth and final is a REM sleep cycle.
Deep sleep occurs during stages three and four, which are both non-REM sleep stages. During the deep sleep period your body will be:
- In its calmest state – your heartbeat and breathing are slow, and your muscles are relaxed
- Relaxed and switched off – your brain activity is at its lowest throughout the whole cycle
- Cool – your body temperature is at its lowest
- Fast asleep – it’s more difficult to wake up during deep sleep than in any other sleep stage
Occurring in the first half of the night, the first cycle of deep sleep lasts from 45 to 90 minutes. Subsequent deep sleep stages do occur, but they will gradually shorten in time. Once complete, your sleep cycle moves to REM sleep, where your heart rate and breathing increase and you’re most likely to dream.
Why Deep Sleep is so Important
Deep sleep is the most important sleep stage to maintaining good health and wellbeing. During deep sleep, your body and mind are in the best place to recover. The following takes place during deep sleep:
- Repair and growth of muscle tissues and bones
- Reinforcement of immune system
- Restoration of energy levels
- Rebalancing of blood sugar levels and metabolism
- Consolidation of memories
Ultimately, deep sleep is your body’s opportunity to recover and repair, both mentally and physically. The more deep sleep you’re able to get, the more your body is able to recover.
How Much Deep Sleep Should I Get?
According to the Institute of Medicine Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research, a healthy human should get around 13%-23% of deep sleep every night. Based on eight hours of sleep, that amounts to between 62 and 110 minutes.
Of course, people of different ages require different amounts of sleep. This is particularly true of children. Toddlers require 11-14 hours each night, and that number decreases slowly to around 8-10 for teenagers. Keeping the same principle as above, children require more deep sleep than adults to recover sufficiently for the next day.
How to Get More Deep Sleep: 5 Tips
Given the importance of deep sleep, it’s worth considering what steps you can take to maximise it. Much of the advice you can give is similar to general advice on getting a good night’s sleep. Here are five of the best tips for topping up your deep sleep.
1. Reduce Stress
Stress is one of the biggest disruptors of general health and wellbeing, and it can have a significant knock-on effect on your quality of sleep. Spending your nights in bed tossing and turning reduces the amount of time you are asleep, limiting the amount of deep sleep you’ll gain.
Reducing stress is easier said than done, but there are things you can do to help relax your mind. Try meditation, a calming evening bath, or regular exercise (a well-known stressbuster) to start brining those stress-levels down.
2. Establish a Routine
Routines are important to your body. A consistent, established body clock will do wonders to anyone hoping to get more deep sleep. Try to stick to a regular bedtime and, even across weekends, make the effort to wake up at the same time each morning.
If you find yourself staying up late on a Friday and Saturday night, but then unable to sleep in later, your ability to get enough deep sleep each night will be hindered.
3. Stay Healthy
Lifestyle can play a significant part in the quality of your general sleep cycle. Exercising is a vital part of any healthy lifestyle. Among the many benefits you’ll see is a handy boost to the quality of your sleep.
Tire out your mind and body by heading out to the gym or the local park for a run. Just be sure to time it correctly. Leave it too late and your body won’t have had the necessary time to wind back down, leaving you full of energy when you hit the hay. Give yourself at least a few hours of time to wind down post-activity.
4. Block Out Light
The sun plays a huge role in regulating your sleep pattern. Body clocks can be woken up by the sun rising, regardless of how much deep sleep you’ve had. Know that feeling of grogginess and fatigue that feels like you haven’t even been to sleep? That occurs when you wake up during deep sleep.
This can be a bigger problem during summer when the sun rises earlier. If you find the sun bleeding in through your curtains, disrupting your sleep, you might want to invest in some good quality blinds or blackout curtains.
Even in your room, take steps to minimise any distracting light that could wake you from deep sleep. Are your TV and laptop standby lights switched off? Will your phone light up if you receive a late-night text? These can all be barriers to your deep sleep, so take steps to block out as much light as you can.
5. Get the Room Temperature Right
One other significant boundary to deep sleep can be temperature. It’s no secret that we struggle with sleep more during the increased heat and humidity of the summer months. Our body temperature needs to drop a couple of degrees to get off soundly to sleep. A warm room can see your body temperature rise, bringing sweats and irritation in the night.
To keep cool, think about wearing breathable pyjamas and invest in some lighter, fresher bedding. If needs be, purchase a small fan so you’re bathed in cool air throughout the night.
The principles of getting the right amount of deep sleep are not dissimilar to those of sleep in general. Given how vital deep sleep is in the cycle of sleep, putting the time into finding the right methods and routine for good sleep could be the key to feeling fitter and more productive during the day.