How to get more deep sleep
Research on sleep consistently finds that “most” adults benefit from between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. While the time spent asleep matters, getting more deep sleep is equally, if not more important.
Sleep is divided into two categories: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs. Your sleep cycle starts with non-REM sleep followed by a brief period of REM sleep. This cycle continues throughout the night approximately every 90 minutes. Deep sleep occurs in the final stage of non-REM sleep.
What is deep sleep?
Deep sleep, technically known as Slow-Wave Sleep or SWS, is part of the non-REM sleep cycle during which the frequency of brain waves slow. During deep sleep, eye movement stops and the body is in a state of physical paralysis. Waking up in this stage of sleep is difficult and if we do wake up we're extremely groggy.
How important is deep sleep?
Deep sleep is very important for both physical and mental restoration. When you’re in a state of deep sleep, your body goes into recovery. Your blood becomes more oxygenated which helps your cells and tissues renew and repair, and your brain consolidates memories and does its own version of resting. Growth hormones are released that regrow tissue, build bone and muscle, and strengthen the immune system. Your blood pressure drops which lowers your chance of cardiovascular disease
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During deep sleep your brain flushes toxins accumulated during waking hours. This detoxification enhances your learning capability and cognitive function. Psychologically, deep sleep gives you mental energy and boosts daytime brain activity and long-term memory.
Tips for getting more deep sleep
Getting more deep sleep involves adopting or improving your sleep hygiene – or sleep habits – to ensure you wake feeling refreshed and alert.
1. Set a healthy bedtime routine
End your screen time at least one hour before bedtime. Lights from computer screens, tablets, TVs or cell phones can mess with our perception of whether or not it’s time to fall asleep. Taking a warm bath or shower is also conducive to a good night’s rest. And going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning sets a routine for your body which can optimize your amount of deep sleep.
Moderate aerobic exercise helps you get more deep sleep which gives the brain and body a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise can also help stabilize your mood and decompress your mind, a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep. That said, vigorous physical activity within an hour before bed can increase sleep latency (amount of time it takes to fall asleep).
3. Manage your diet
Adopting a healthy diet and avoiding heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine at least three hours before bedtime can help you gain more deep sleep. Alcohol is a sedative, which means it causes your muscles to relax. Sedatives sometimes cause the throat to relax more than it needs to, resulting in higher instances of sleep-disordered breathing, including snoring and sleep apnea. I can hear you saying, in reference to heavy meals, “Then how come I’m so sleepy after consuming a heavy meal?” Post-meal blood is shifted to assist with digestion. This creates a decreased flow of nutrient rich blood to the brain while at the same time releasing serotonin which creates a temporary state of drowsiness. This, however, is temporary and when blood flow balances out, your drowsiness can as well.
4. Create A Good Sleep Environment
Keep your bedroom between 60-67 degrees during sleep time. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and that your mattress and bedding are comfortable.
Keep in mind there is no one size fits all routine of healthy sleep habits. Experiment with these tips for better deep sleep to see what works best for you. Healthful modifications in your lifestyle and adopting new habits isn’t always easy, but doing so will put you on the path to getting more deep sleep and improved physical and mental health.
Ed Pienkosz is an experienced healthcare and behavior change professional with a focus on improving the quality of life through awareness, education and empowerment. He has more than 30 years of professional experience in healthcare and wellness including Population Health, Chronic Disease management and prevention, and quality of life improvement. Ed holds a Master’s of Science in Exercise Physiology and is a member of the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching.