Sleep… that elusive creature that stayed right by our side when we were babies. Now it seems to have betrayed us, leaving us when we need it the most. After a hard day’s work, what some of us need is good, deep sleep which oftentimes eludes us.
For those who need to catch some more deep sleep, this article explains how.
Let’s Go Over The Sleep Cycle
Before we go into all the things we can do to get the best out of sleep, we have to understand the sleep cycle first. Deep sleep, as you will see, is one of the stages of the sleep cycle.
There are two major phases of sleep – the NREM or Non – Rapid Eye Movement sleep and the REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. Each phase is equally important with different processes occurring in each phase.
Being a cycle, it means we go from NREM to REM back to NREM continuously. One cycle of NREM to REM lasts about an hour and a half to two hours. The proportion of REM sleep is typically about 20-25% of the total sleep cycle.
NREM sleep, which takes about 75 – 80% of the sleep cycle, is divided into three stages.
- Stage 1: this is the stage of very light sleep where we are easily woken. About 5% of the cycle is designated to this stage.
- Stage 2: this is the stage of light sleep where the body prepares itself for deep sleep by slowing the heart rate and decreasing the body temperature. It is also the longest part of the cycle with a proportion of about 50%.
- Stage 3: this is where deep sleep occurs. It takes up about 20% of the sleep cycle.
The sleep cycle is a pretty complicated process that isn’t fully understood yet. It begins with you feeling drowsy then entering stage 1. We move from stage 1 to stage 2, and then stage 3 follows. It shuttles between stages 2 and 3 for a while before moving from stage 2 to REM sleep. From REM sleep, it moves back to stage 2 before moving to another stage.
To add to the complication, the length of time spent in each stage changes the longer we sleep, the older we are and the time of night we are sleeping.
As babies, 50% of sleep is spent in REM and the cycle length ranges from 50 to 60 minutes. As teens, the time spent in the deep phase of NREM and REM reduces further and continues to decline. In the elderly population, the time spent in stage 3 and REM is very short which is why a common complaint amongst this age group is poor sleep.
Deep sleep (stage 3) occurs more in the earlier hours of sleep and REM in the later hours of sleep. For example, if we sleep from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m., between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. we get more cycles in stage 3 (deep sleep) than REM and between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. we get more REM sleep than deep sleep.
What Happens During Deep Sleep?
If you were to be hooked up to a monitor and your brain patterns observed while sleeping, the screen would show different types of brainwave patterns as you move from wakefulness to deep sleep.
The difference between the wave patterns can be identified in the amplitude and frequency of the waves as well as certain special complexes that form (e.g. theta waves, sleep spindles, k- complexes). When you are awake the waves have a higher frequency and smaller amplitude (looks like the waves have been pushed together).
As you fall deeper into sleep, the waves begin to look more drawn out and larger. Stage 3 has high-amplitude, low-frequency waves – called the delta waves. At this time, your muscles are fully relaxed, your heart rate and breathing slow down, and it would be much harder to wake you up from sleep. If you do wake up from this stage, you would be very groggy.
Why Do We Need Deep Sleep?
The grogginess you feel is the body’s way of saying “you need to get back to sleep; I’m currently giving you a cellular make-over”. Here are some of the benefits:
Lowers Blood Pressure – during deep sleep, your blood pressure decreases giving your heart a break its strenuous work of pumping. During this time, the heart repairs itself, preparing it for another day of strenuous activity. Good, consistent deep sleep can keep your heart healthy.
Muscle power – all muscle groups in your body relax. This allows blood to flow in unhindered, supplying nutrients and strength to these muscles. Also, muscle cells that were torn during the day’s activities can be repaired and new cells can be grown. Deep sleep improves muscle strength.
Recharge and Repair – the body recharges itself and repairs all that needs fixing during this period. You know how certain services shut-down for maintenance purposes? Your body does this every day when you sleep. Deep sleep is important for daily body maintenance.
Growth Hormone – during deep sleep, this super important hormone is released. It is involved in a lot of metabolic activities in the body and is required for the ‘recharge and repair’ benefit mentioned above. In children, growth hormone is responsible for growth and development. In adults, it plays a major role in the regulation of glucose. It is necessary for adequate growth hormone production.
Immune boosting – while the body is in deep sleep, part of the recharge process involves immunity boosting. More cells required for immunity are formed which can potentially fight germs. It is required for a strong immune system.
Feeling good – when you get enough deep sleep, your body rests and relaxes. This process of rejuvenation leaves you feeling refreshed when you awaken. When your body is happy, you are happy! It is essential for feeling good.
De-Stress – when we go to bed, the brain acts to decrease the level of stress hormones released. This action is most effective during deep sleep. When we wake up less stressed, we are more productive during the day. It helps us De-Stress.
How To Get More Deep Sleep
- You need to sleep long enough. Deep sleep is a percentage of total sleep time. It, therefore, goes without saying that to get more, you need more sleep. An adult needs about 8 – 9hours of sleep daily. Aim for this length of sleep and you should get an adequate amount of deep sleep.
- Stress is a major hindrance to deep sleep. To help you de-stress, do something relaxing before going to bed such as yoga, listening to an audiobook (probably not a suspense/thriller) or even do some adult coloring or painting.
- See your doctor. Certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, can keep you from sleeping deeply. It’s best to get medical advice about your condition for you to get better sleep. Some medication may also have the side effect of causing poor sleep, read the prescription label of your meds to see if it is a culprit, and then ask your doctor for advice on changing it.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the collection of basic habits you need to have a good, restful sleep. Some of these habits include:
- Sleep in a dimly lit, cool, quiet and comfortable room
- No caffeine, alcohol or nicotine before bedtime
- No exercise 3 hours before bedtime
- No heavy meals just before going to bed
- Avoid gadgets 1 hour before and while in bed
- Sleep on a regular schedule
How Much Deep Sleep Do We Need?
The amount of deep sleep we need is the amount the body naturally cycles through. Twenty percent of our sleep time goes to deep sleep. The normal adult needs about 8 hours of sleep which means that we need 20 % of 8 hours – 1.6 hours or one hour thirty-six minutes.
Babies and children, up to the age of eighteen, get a lot more deep sleep simply because they require more sleep in general.
What Happens If We Don’t Get Enough?
As you can tell from the benefits of deep sleep, it is highly necessary for our daily functioning. When we don’t get enough, we miss out on all the goodies it helps our bodies get. Some of the effects include –
- Feeling un-refreshed in the morning
- High stress levels
- Decreased immunity
- Decreased memory retention
- Constant sleepiness
How Do I Know I Am Getting Enough?
The litmus test to know if you are getting enough deep sleep is yourself. If you are reaping all the benefits of good sleep as stated earlier, then you probably are doing well. If you feel the effects of a lack of deep sleep as I mentioned above, then it’s likely you aren’t getting enough.
If you are not getting enough, here are a few things you could do to ensure you get that much-needed phase of sleep.
Your path to getting an adequate amount of deep sleep is a relatively easy one. All you have to remember is that everything you try to do on less sleep can be done better after having good, deep sleep. Go ahead and catch that seemingly elusive creature called deep sleep… you’ll thank me for it!