Still feeling groggy and tired, even though you got enough hours of sleep? It turns out you may not be getting enough of a key sleep cycle stage. Although it’s said to only comprise 10-20% of your entire night’s sleep, the deep sleep stage of the sleep cycle is associated with the rejuvenation of cells, boosting of the immune system, and overall healing — making it an essential stage to reach for optimal health. Let’s explore this stage (and the others) a little deeper and find out what we need to do to access more of it.
How much sleep do you need?
A recent study by the National Sleep Foundation published in Sleep Health: The Journal of the National Sleep Foundation explained that people need different amounts of sleep according to their age. Recommendations for the amount of sleep needed by healthy individuals made in the study included:
- Newborns: 14-17 hours
- Infants: 12-15 hours
- Toddlers: 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers: 10-13 hours
- School-aged children: 9-11 hours
- Teenagers: 8-10 hours
- Young adults and adults: 7-9 hours
- Older adults: 7-8 hours
Assuming you’re getting close to the correct number of hours of sleep for your age (slight deviations are deemed acceptable in the study), if you still aren’t feeling properly rested upon awakening, let’s look at a few other factors.
What is the sleep cycle?
Basically, our sleep cycle goes through five stages as we sleep. It then repeats those five stages around three to five times each night. The first full cycle takes around 90 minutes to complete, but subsequent cycles may take less time as the night goes on. Let’s take a look at each cycle:
Stage 1 is light sleep, where you are first beginning to fall asleep and may be fading in and out of sleep. Alpha and theta brain waves begin during this stage, and the whole stage lasts about seven minutes altogether. During this phase, you can probably be awakened easily.
During this stage, things slow down, and your eyes will cease movement. Your brain activity will alternate between slowing down and generating sporadic, rapid bursts called K complexes and sleep spindles during this phase.
Here is the stage we’re most concerned with in our exploration today. Stage 3 kicks off the deep sleep stage, which begins when your brain starts generating predominantly slower delta waves. There will be no muscle or eye movement, and you won’t awaken as easily. The body begins to repair its tissues, stimulate immunity, spark development, and more during this restorative phase.
REM Sleep begins in this stage, during which eye movement becomes rapid, the heart rate and blood pressure increases, and breathing becomes quicker and more shallow. This is the stage associated with dreaming and processing information from earlier in the day, and adults usually have five or six REM cycles each night.
How can you get more deep sleep?
Aside from getting the right amount of daily exercise, water, and proper nutrition, there are several other key areas you can work with to reach greater amounts of deep sleep. Some of these are:
- Decrease caffeine, and avoid consuming it later in the day. While you’re at it, quit smoking as well. Smokers often awaken before sleep cycles are complete due to nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol should be avoided before bed as well, as drinkers usually remain in the light sleep stages rather than cycling.
- Switch to a lower carbohydrate diet. This has been associated with better sleep.
- Drink tart cherry juice. They’re naturally rich in melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep.
- Keep your room at a cool sleep temperature. Usually people sleep best when their room is between 60 and 67 degrees.
- Try pink noise. Never heard of it? We had to do a bit of research, too! Turns out that pink noise is a lot like white noise, but sounds generally smoother and less static-y. Here is an example of pink noise.
- Talk to your doctor about antidepressants if you are on them. If you can adjust or eliminate them from your regimen, you may find that your sleep improves. (Remember never to adjust antidepressants without notifying your doctor. This can result in a drastic change in mood which can be very dangerous.)
- Make sure you have the proper mattress, pillow, and bedding. If you have a preferred sleeping position, such as back sleeper, stomach sleeper, consider whether your pillow and mattress matches your needs. Do you sleep hot? Maybe a cooler bedding selection would help. If you have an active sleep partner, consider the motion transfer of your current mattress.
- Power down your devices at least 30 minutes or an hour before bedtime. The blue light from your screen can be stimulating and keep you awake much longer than desired.
- Some recommend sleep hypnosis while others suggest listening to ASMR videos before bed. These haven’t been scientifically proven, but some people find them helpful.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime. Most experts agree you should stop eating at least three hours before bedtime for optimal digestion and sleep.
We hope some of these ideas can help you reach your best sleep cycle and allow you to access the proper amount of deep sleep. If it gets too confusing, try keeping a journal at your bedside to jot down what you’ve already tried, the result, and what you’re still hoping to try. Most of the advice above should be repeated nightly for best results.
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