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How To Get More Deep Sleep

Have you been wondering how to get more deep sleep each night? Check out our comprehensive guide for optimizing your sleep quality, starting tonight.

What's more important: how many hours of sleep you get each night or the quality of your sleep? That's kind of a trick question, since both are equally important.

For those of us who have sleep problems and consistently feel excessively sleepy in the daytime, we're often left wondering how to get more deep sleep. The answer may not be the same for everyone (because different people have different reasons for getting poor sleep quality), but there are some things you can do to increase your likelihood of getting healthy sleep at night.

What Is Deep Sleep?

Deep sleep is the most restorative of the various sleep stages. If you're not spending sufficient time in deep sleep each night, it really doesn't matter how many hours of sub-par sleep you get. You still won't feel energetic and fully restored in the morning.

Sleep is divided into two main categories: Non-REM sleep (also known as NREM sleep) and rapid eye movement sleep (also known as REM sleep). There are five total stages of sleep: four stages of non-REM sleep and just one stage of REM sleep. Some experts combine stages 3 and 4 into a single stage and say there are just three stages of non-REM sleep. But for this guide, we'll split up stages 3 and 4.

Stages 1 and 2 are considered light sleep. Brain activity begins to slow down during these stages. Other body functions also start to slow down, including breathing, heartbeat, and eye movements. The body temperature begins to drop, as well.

During stage 2, the brain creates short waves and an EEG would reveal sleep spindles, which are brain patterns that are most prevalent in stage 2 sleep. The National Sleep Foundation explains that when sleep spindles show up on an EEG, it is a sure way to tell a person is asleep.

Deep sleep encompasses stages 3 and 4 of the sleep cycle. Brain waves slow down the most during these stages, as do breathing and heart rate. Deep sleep is also commonly called delta sleep or slow wave sleep (due to the slow nature of brain waves during this stage). It is the most restorative sleep you can experience. If you regularly experience sleep deprivation, you're probably not getting enough delta sleep to help your mind and body function optimally.

Stage 5 sleep is when you experience rapid eye movement. It's also the stage of the sleep cycle associated with dreaming. During rapid eye movement sleep, your brain waves become more active and your eyes dart from side to side behind your eyelids. Your breathing speeds up and may even become irregular.

Your heart rate also increases during the REM stage of the sleep cycle until it's close to its waking rate. Most people experience sleep paralysis during this stage, which means the limbs cannot be moved. This is a normal aspect of REM sleep. However, if sleep paralysis occurs outside of REM sleep, it is considered a sleep disorder.

Why Do I Need Deep Sleep?

Deep sleep is quality sleep. During deep sleep, the brain increases its glucose metabolism, which can help support overall brain function and both short- and long-term memory. The pituitary gland also secretes human growth hormone and other important hormones during deep sleep. Additional benefits of deep sleep include:

  • Increased supply of blood to the muscles
  • Energy restoration
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Cell regeneration
  • Repair and growth of bones and tissues

As you can see, it's just as important to make sure you're getting sufficient deep sleep as it is to make sure you're getting the recommended amount of total sleep each night. Your mind and body function much better after a good night's sleep than they do when you're sleep-deprived.

When you don't get restful sleep at night, your risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease increases. You're also more likely to experience the following:

  • Excessive daytime drowsiness
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased brain function (i.e. "brain fog")
  • Frequent headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immunity
  • Low sex drive
  • Reduced quality of life

These unpleasant side effects illustrate the importance of developing good sleep habits so you can maintain your body's circadian rhythm and get good sleep at night.

How Many Hours of Deep Sleep Do I Need?

For most people with healthy sleep patterns, deep sleep makes up anywhere between 13% and 23% of their total sleep. This means that if you sleep for seven hours, approximately 55 to 97 minutes of your sleep should be spent in deep sleep.

Some people need more deep sleep when they're recovering from an illness or sleep deprivation. People with certain sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) may also spend more or less time than normal in deep sleep.

People under the age of 30 may get as much as two hours of deep sleep at night. However, the older we get, the less time we tend to spend in deep sleep.

There is a theory that young people spend more time in deep sleep because they need the development and growth that occurs during this sleep stage. Older people also need deep sleep, but it's harder for them to achieve it.

How Long Does It Take To Get Into Deep Sleep?

Once you fall asleep, it can take anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes to get into deep sleep for the first time. You should experience deep sleep multiple times throughout the night as you cycle through the various stages of sleep. If you wake up feeling exhausted, that's a pretty good indication that you're not getting adequate deep sleep and you need to make changes so you can get better sleep at bedtime.

What Is the Difference Between Deep Sleep and REM Sleep?

We've skimmed over some of the key characteristics of deep sleep versus REM, but let's talk about their differences in greater detail. Here's what's happening to your body and brain during deep sleep versus REM sleep.

Deep Sleep

During deep sleep, which is a stage of NREM sleep, brain waves slow down. It takes the body anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes to enter deep sleep after initially falling asleep. Here's what happens to your brain and body during this stage of sleep:

Brain

When you're in deep sleep, you don't dream. Your brain doesn't experience a lot of activity at all because it is resting and repairing itself in preparation for the next day. If someone were to wake you up during deep sleep, you would feel extremely groggy and you might even feel a bit disoriented for a few seconds.

Body

While your brain slows down and relaxes, your body follows suit. Your heart rate and breathing slow down and your muscles relax completely. You're capable of sleeping through loud noises during this stage of sleep. Though your body seems remarkably still, there is a lot going on behind the scenes during deep sleep. Your body is building muscle tissue, healing wounds, and replacing old, dead, or damaged cells. It does all of this without any conscious effort on your part. That's pretty incredible!

REM Sleep

REM sleep is the last stage of sleep and is characterized by rapid movements of the eyes back and forth. For most people, REM sleep happens about 90 minutes after initially falling asleep. The first period of REM sleep usually lasts around 10 minutes. Most people who stick with a regular bedtime routine and get quality sleep at night experience up to five periods of REM stages per night. Each stage is typically longer than the last, and the final REM stage could potentially be as long as one hour.

Brain

Your brain activity becomes intense during REM sleep. You're likely to experience vivid dreams during this stage of sleep.

Body

Your heart beats faster during REM sleep and it may even become irregular at times. When people wet the bed or sleepwalk, they do it during REM sleep. However, most peoples' bodies stay still during REM sleep.

What Causes Poor Deep Sleep?

Poor deep sleep can be caused by many different things. Here are a few of the most common causes for insufficient deep sleep at bedtime:

  • A poor-quality mattress that causes frequent awakening during the night
  • Caffeine consumption too close to bedtime
  • Substance abuse
  • Certain medications (such as opioid medications and benzodiazepines)
  • Taking frequent or long naps during the day
  • Spending too much time in bed (which can weaken the sleep drive and impact the circadian rhythm)
  • Exposure to blue light (the kind found in electronics) right before bed
  • Sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea, insomnia, and periodic limb movements of sleep)

If you think any of these causes could be impacting your ability to achieve optimal deep sleep, there are changes you can make. We'll go over deep sleep tips a little later in this guide.

How Can I Tell if I'm Not Getting Enough Deep Sleep?

It's normal to wonder whether you're getting enough deep sleep at night, especially since an estimated 35% of adults are sleep-deprived. Before we dive into the symptoms of insufficient deep sleep, here are the three main stages of sleep deprivation. They include:

  • Acute sleep deprivation: This refers to short-term sleep deprivation (usually just a few days). During this brief period, an individual experiences a significant reduction of quality sleep.
  • Chronic sleep deprivation: This type of sleep deprivation lasts for three months or longer. It's also known as insufficient sleep syndrome and can lead to sleep disorders.
  • Chronic sleep deficiency: Like chronic sleep deprivation, chronic sleep deficiency is characterized by long-lasting poor sleep. But this type of sleep problem is caused by sleep disruptions or sleep fragmentation. Once the disruptions are resolved, the affected individual can usually begin experiencing higher-quality sleep again.

If you're dealing with any of these types of sleep deprivation or deficiency, you are most likely not getting enough deep sleep. Here are some common symptoms associated with insufficient deep sleep:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Slower thinking
  • Reduced concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Reduced attention span
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood changes
  • Anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Problems with memory

You can also visit a doctor to get officially diagnosed with sleep deprivation. Your doctor will likely review your sleep history with you as part of this process, so make sure you keep a sleep diary that details your sleep patterns, problems, and any symptoms you may be experiencing during the daytime.

Depending on what your doctor is able to learn during your initial appointment, he or she may recommend sleep tracking technology or a sleep study that will analyze your sleep quality overnight. These tests can provide conclusive results about whether or not you have an underlying sleep disorder impacting your ability to achieve deep and restful sleep.

How Can I Get More Deep Sleep?

Sleep problems can be a drag, but if you're serious about getting better sleep, we have some tips for you.

Give Yourself a Bedtime Schedule

One of the most fun aspects of adulthood is being able to stay up as late as you want. Unfortunately, many of us realize after trial and error that sticking to a bedtime is the best and most responsible way to ensure we get quality sleep at night. Whenever possible, go to bed at the same time each night. You may not be able to do it on some nights, but if you are as consistent as possible, you'll be rewarded with higher-quality sleep.

Exercise Every Day

Lack of physical activity can cause disruptions to your sleep quality. For this reason, you should try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. If you have to, split your exercise times up into multiple chunks. It's a lot easier for some people to spend 10 minutes briskly walking three times per day than it is to devote 30 consecutive minutes to exercise. Do what works best for you!

Do Relaxing Activities Before Bed

Engaging in relaxing activities before bed can help boost melatonin and prepare your body to fall asleep. Here are some suggestions for relaxing activities you may want to try this evening:

  • Reading a book
  • Stretching
  • Taking a hot bath
  • Meditating
  • Getting a massage
  • Praying
  • Listening to soothing music or pink noise

These are all great activities to prepare you for a restful sleep. Try to keep away from electronic devices in the hours leading up to bedtime, as the blue light emitted from these devices can stimulate the brain and negatively impact sleep quality.

Use Sleep Medicine Responsibly (and Rarely)

The Cleveland Clinic recommends thinking twice before relying on an OTC sleep medicine to help you get your Z's. Sleep medicine can come with unwanted side effects and can be habit-forming. While they can be used rarely, they're not a good solution for sleep or neurological disorders.

Try a New Mattress

If you wake because you're uncomfortable during the night, your mattress may be to blame. Even if the mattress you currently have was extremely comfortable when you first bought it, no mattress is designed to last forever. Over time, mattresses become less comfortable and can even cause spinal alignment issues. This is especially true if your mattress has a noticeable dip in it, which is an indication that the internal materials are breaking down.

Most experts agree that mattresses should be replaced every eight years or so. If you've had yours longer than that, it's time to go shopping! When looking for the best mattress, try to find one that most comfortably accommodates your preferred sleep position.

Optimize Your Bedroom Temperature

Research shows that most people sleep better when the bedroom temperature is somewhere between 60⁰ and 67⁰ Fahrenheit. Even if those temperatures would normally feel too cold for you during waking hours, turning your thermostat down when you go to bed may help you get more deep sleep at night. Give it a try tonight and see if it works!

Minimize Stress

It's impossible to limit every stressor in your life. But if you want to get sufficient sleep, you should at least try to minimize your daily stress levels. You can do this by getting more organized, prioritizing your tasks, and learning how to harness the power of meditation to kick excess stress out the door.

Take a Melatonin Supplement

Melatonin is the primary hormone responsible for good sleep. When our bodies don't make enough of it, we're more likely to experience sleep disturbances that prevent us from staying in deep sleep long enough. If you need a little help boosting your body's melatonin content, try taking a melatonin supplement before bed. Hernightly is a great option.

Each deliciously-flavored packet of Hernightly powder contains 3mg of melatonin. It also contains herbs (such as ashwagandha and chamomile) that can support healthy sleep. You can enjoy Hernightly in cold or warm water, or try adding it to a soothing glass of milk or almond milk.

Learn More Tips for Healthy Sleep and a Healthy Life

You don't have to navigate through sleep or life by yourself. At Mixhers, we have plenty of resources designed to make your life easier and fuller. Stop by Mixhers resources when you have a minute and learn more about how to minimize period pain, improve your sex drive, and optimize your sleep habits.