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Increasing Deep Sleep: Getting the Most Out of Bedtime

Sleep is necessary for human health and function; according to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. The amount of sleep you get alone, however, is not the only factor to take into account for healthy sleep.

Without deep sleep, the human body is not efficiently able to perform its fundamental tasks. In order to improve the quality of bedtime hours, most adults need about 1 to 2 hours of deep sleep a night. Even if they satisfy the sleep requirements for their age group, many people do not get enough hours of deep sleep.

What is Deep Sleep?

Sleep is a complicated biological behavior that scientists do not fully understand. However, it is imperative to develop and biotic operation.

There are two main types of sleep you should be familiar with. The first is non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which the brain and body pass through in three different stages: 

  • Stage 1 - The transition from being “awake” to falling asleep. This is when you start “slipping” into sleep.
  • Stage 2 - The stage during which light sleep occurs. You can easily be woken up by voices, sounds, and light. Brain activity slows down.
  • Stage 3 - The stage during which deep sleep occurs. The body, brain, and breathing slow down. Muscles relax.

The second type of sleep is REM sleep. This is the deepest stage of sleep, during which dreams occur and eyes move rapidly behind closed lids. The older you get, the less REM sleep you are able to get each night.

Stage 3 non-REM sleep and REM sleep are what characterize deep sleep. Many people who would characterize themselves as “light sleepers” sleep predominantly in stages 1 and 2. They are unable to sleep for an adequate amount of time in stage 3 or are unable to reach REM sleep at all.

It is important for everyone to be able to sleep into stage 3 and REM in order to reap benefits from sleep.

Why We Need Deep Sleep 

While you are at rest, your brain and body are at work optimizing you for the next day. If human bodies are like cars, sleep is the auto shop. Deep sleep is important for almost every bodily function and helps strengthen our systems.

  • Repair - While sleeping, the body repairs itself from physical stress, such as injury or muscle strain.
  • Memory and Brain Function - While sleeping, the brain reworks neurological passageways which help us retain information as well as combat stress.
  • Immunity - Without sleep, our immune system weakens and is unable to fight off pathogens as efficiently as it should.
  • Focus - Sufficient deep sleep helps us focus on tasks and gives us energy throughout the day. It can help productivity as well as athletic performance.

Deep sleep is important for overall health and wellbeing. It can also prevent certain diseases as well as lower inflammation in the body in relation to joint and muscle pain.

Risks Associated With Lack of Deep Sleep

Lack of deep sleep can cause health deficits. It impacts day to day life, but has also been associated with increased risks of certain diseases and disorders. These include:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke
  • Dementia 
  • Alzheimers 
  • Type 2 Diabetes 
  • Obesity and Eating Disorders
  • Depression and Anxiety

Lack of deep sleep also has impacts on social interaction, mood, emotional well being, coordination, and alertness. In fact, many researchers claim that deep sleep deprivation  cognitively equates to being under the influence of alcohol. 

The risks associated with lack of deep sleep outweigh the benefits of sleeping less and will hurt your overall emotional and physical well being in the long run.

How to Increase Deep Sleep

There are two different sleep mechanisms that help our bodies regulate when to sleep and when to wake up. In order to understand how to increase quality of sleep, you must first understand the basics of how these mechanisms work.

  • Circadian Rhythms - This is controlled by your body’s biological clock, which responds to environmental factors. It wakes you up at a certain time each morning, and makes you sleepy at night in response to light and temperature changes that signify the time of day.
  • Homeostasis - This manages your body’s needs and makes changes in order to maintain a balanced biological state. Sleep-wake homeostasis increases the drive for rest when the body needs it, and prompts the body to wake up when sufficient sleep has been obtained.

Unlike circadian rhythms, homeostasis responds to lack of sleep rather than the time of day. Despite this, both mechanisms work together in order to maintain sleep patterns.

They can be influenced by external factors and habits. For example:

  • Staying up late for an extended period of time disrupts circadian rhythms and signals sleep at later times than usual, and therefore also wake up times.
  • Taking sleeping pills or similar medications can interfere with homeostasis as they prompt sleep through an external force.

For this reason, your daily and bedtime habits can substantially influence both the quantity and quality of the sleep you get. In order to increase deep sleep, it may help to incorporate the following into your daily and nightly routines:

  • Maintain a Schedule - The best, but hardest way, to get good quality sleep is to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even weekends. This way, circadian rhythms are not disrupted and the same amount of time is reserved for sleep every day. 

  • Exercise - Often, inability to sleep deeply is caused by lack of physical activity, and therefore lack of exhaustion. While exercise before bed might keep you alert and unable to sleep, physical activity throughout the day or a few hours before bed helps immensely. 

  • Meditation - Mindfulness exercises or can help the brain slow down and relax before bed and prevent racing thoughts from keeping you up all night and unable to sleep well

    • Shower or Bath - Taking a shower or bath right before bed, like exercise, may keep you alert and unable to sleep. However, if done an hour or two before bedtime, it can help with the relaxation and comfort needed to fall asleep.
    • Bedding - Sheets, pillows, mattresses, and blankets that are uncomfortable may make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. For best results, use bedding that is comfortable to you.
    • Herbal Tea - Drinking a non-caffeinated warm drink before bed, such as chamomile, can help with relaxation.
    • Light, Sound, and Temperature - Studies have shown that temperature and light have a significant impact on sleep. It is best to sleep in a room completely dark, quiet, and slightly cold. Make sure it is not too cold, however, as that can have the opposite effect.
    • Supplements - Natural supplements such as melatonin can be effective in aiding sleep as opposed to sleep medications. Consult a doctor before using any supplements.

    Although these methods may help increase sleep quality, they should be used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. If lack of deep sleep is severely impacting your life, it is always best to see a doctor.

    What to Avoid

    Just as there are many things you can do to increase sleep quality, there are also habits to avoid:

    • Drinking caffeinated beverages late into the day may keep caffeine in your system through the night even if its “effects” have worn off.
    • Smoking delivers nicotine to the body and keeps users more alert, especially if used before bed.
    • Drinking alcohol and taking certain drugs may make users feel sleepy, or even help them fall asleep, but they impact their ability to go into deep sleep and therefore undermine sleep quality.
  • Eating heavy food, especially food high in fat and carbohydrates may lead to sleep troubles. Give your body time to digest food before getting into bed. If you must have a bedtime snack, keep it small and light. 

  • Key Takeaways

    • Deep sleep is essential for biological function and well-being. It helps repair the body as well as prevent diseases.
    • Deep sleep does not occur until two stages into the sleep cycle, so it is important to not only to get enough sleep, but to get good quality sleep.
    • Adults need about 1 to 2 hours of deep sleep a night to reap benefits.
    • To increase deep sleep, you should maintain healthy habits and routines, as well as gain an understanding of your body and bedtime needs.
    • If lack of sleep is negatively impacting your life in a significant way, it is best to consult a doctor for personalized recommendations and guidance.