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How To Become a Deep Sleeper

How To Become a Deep Sleeper

Some of us can wallow in a deep slumber night after night, blissfully unaware of clatters or strange sounds going on, while others are woken by every cough or turn from their partner in bed. But why are there such profound differences in the way we sleep and how do we get a better quality of sleep, i.e. more of the deep stuff we know to be so refreshing?

What Is Deep Sleep?

Firstly, to understand sleep issues, it's important to consider what happens to the body after we close our eyes at night. When we sleep, our bodies flow through 4 stages - stages 1 and 2 are light sleep stages. Stage 3 is deep, restorative sleep. Finally, stage 4 is rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. You'll take around one and a half or two hours to complete a full cycle of those stages of sleep and will rotate through them around four or five times a night.

Your deepest sleep in stage 3 is referred to as non-rapid eye movement or slow-wave sleep. 

What Does Deep Sleeper Mean?

So what does it mean to be a deep sleeper and what happens to the body when we're in a deep sleep? 

When we're in stage 3 or our deepest sleep, the brain and body cool right down so you can restore energy. Your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, also known as the rest and digest mode whereby your heart rate slows and blood pressure drops. This aids digestion and helps eliminate waste from the body.

Your hormones are working hard too, with your pituitary gland sending out human growth hormone to help your body repair and recover muscle and other tissues from any injuries or wear and tear. It also strengthens the immune system. We all know that children sleep deeper and for longer than adults and it's no coincidence that this is while they're growing. Growth hormones surge to your bones during slow-wave sleep meaning your child may just wake up that tiny bit taller!

Meanwhile, in adults, studies show that deep sleep is important for glucose regulation. It is thought that a lack of stage 3 sleep can lower your insulin sensitivity meaning you aren't able to use glucose as productively and you may end up eating more during the day.

All in all, a deep sleeper usually wakes feeling more refreshed, more energetic and ready to take on the day than those of us who have had less deep sleep.

When Does Deep Sleep Occur?

Deep sleep or slow-wave sleep occurs in stage 3 of the 4-cycle sleep stage we go through every night. When we close our eyes, our bodies go through stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3 and then REM sleep. 

It is during stage 3, which occurs every 90 minutes or so, that we get our deepest rest. In this stage, our body tissue repairs and grows and the immune system recharges. It occurs most frequently in the first half of the night - you'll be difficult to wake during this time. 

Heart and breathing rates slow, muscles relax and brain wave activity is more leisurely.

How Can I Sleep More Deeply?

We'd all benefit from a little more deep sleep each night to awaken feeling on cloud 9. Thankfully, there are a few healthy habits to ensure we can make this happen:

Exercise routines

Working out at roughly the same time in the morning and afternoon on a regular basis will ease your body into a good sleep routine, although exercising too close to bedtime may hinder sleep. As little as 10 minutes of exercise can give you a good night’s sleep.

Warm bath or shower before sleep

A warm relaxing bath before bed initially raises your body temperature which then cools when you get out and dry yourself thus preparing your body for feeling sleepy.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule

Giving yourself enough time to sleep - between 7 and 9 hours - and getting up at the same time every day will help get you into a regular sleep routine. This also means setting an alarm on weekends!

Avoid blue light before bed

Give some thought to your bedtime environment. Make sure your bedroom is cool, but not cold, and dark and avoid scrolling through your phone before bed. If you can, keep your phone out of the bedroom entirely. Phones and devices emit blue light which prevents your brain from secreting melatonin. 

Don't sleep for too long!

More than 10 hours of regular sleep may leave you feeling drowsy and this may be an indicator of an underlying health problem.

Avoid alcohol before bed

It is recommended that alcohol is not consumed in the last four hours before you go to bed. It may cause you to feel sleepy initially and drift off into what feels like a deep sleep, but it also interferes with the quality of your sleep and breathing issues. The nightcap is a myth!

Avoid caffeine before bed

It's no secret that caffeine is a stimulant. Drinking coffee or a caffeinated product - that includes chocolate - just before bed can leave you feeling very awake. This delays your body clock, having a knock-on effect for the next day. Try to cut out caffeine six hours before bed if you're experiencing sleep problems. 

Get natural sunlight during the day

Natural sunlight sets your body's circadian rhythm. Getting some exposure to light during the day lets your body know that's the time to be awake, so when the sun goes down, it also knows that is your time to feel sleepy. People who commute on long journeys or work shifts and only see dark skies find their circadian rhythms become confused.

Eat more fibre

Load up on beans, broccoli, avocados and berries which are all high in fibre if you want to spend longer in deep sleep. Cutting back on sugar and difficult-to-digest foods such as fried, spicy or high-fat food will also mean you're not going to bed with an overactive digestive system.

White noise

If you live in a noisy environment you may benefit from white noise, whether it's a fan near the bed or a white noise app playing on your bedside table to block out sounds that stop you from falling to sleep.

Be more mindful with Yours

Practising yoga or meditation is a great way of switching off and preparing the body for its rest period. Yours app has specific yoga for sleep classes which teach you the best poses alongside resting poses which get you ready for bedtime. Alternatively, you may like being lulled into slumber with a sleep story. Yours has a range of soothing and relaxing voices that will help you drift off to a better quality of sleep.

What Are the Benefits of Deep Sleep?

All the sleep cycles we experience at night are important. Each comes with its own benefits. However, stage 3, which is when we enjoy our deepest sleep, is often considered the most important. This is due to the vital pick-me-ups and restoration it provides our bodies after a long day:

  • Bone, muscle and tissue repair and growth - The pituitary gland secretes human growth hormones during deep sleep which helps our cells grow and repair and help us to wake up feeling revived and refreshed. This growth hormone is particularly important in children whose bones are still growing.
  • Strengthens the immune system - Research shows that getting high-quality deep sleep enables the components of the immune system to 'rev up' and in turn an ability to recognise and react to dangerous antigens and respond well to vaccines. 
  • Glucose regulation - Our glucose metabolism in the brain increases during slow-wave sleep, meaning our overall learning and memory benefits. During this stage, unhealthy blood sugar levels are also lowered will helps to maintain a healthy weight and can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Energy restoration - Stanford University researchers found that only during deep, restful sleep can human brain cells replenish the energy stores depleted during a full day of thinking, sensing and reacting.
  • Increased blood supply to muscles - As brain waves slow which enables your brain to rest, there is more blood supply available to muscles which delivers oxygen and nutrients to facilitate their healing and growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can A Light Sleeper Become A Deep Sleeper?

Unfortunately, you can't exactly rewire your brain to become a deep sleeper if, traditionally, the slightest noise or change in environment wakes you up. However, there are still ways for even the lightest sleeper to get the most rejuvenating sleep they can with changes to external stimuli.

Maintaining a good pre-bed routine, with good sleep habits such as exercising regularly, spending time being more mindful before bed with yoga or meditation and trying foods or supplements known to promote better quality sleep should give you the kickstart you need. Allow your body to do the rest.

How Many Hours of Deep Sleep Do You Need?

We've all got the golden eight hours ringing in our ears but how much deep sleep do we require? Newborns and babies need the most deep sleep - around 2.4 to 3.6 hours a night. Children aged one to 12 need around 2 - 2.8 hours of deep sleep and teenagers should be getting 1.7 to 2 hours very night.

Once we hit adulthood the body requires between 1.6 and 2.25 hours but sleep physiology changes as we get older. Our bodies need less growth and development and while deep sleep is still important, we won't need quite as much as we move into our senior years.

Do Deep Sleepers Get Better Sleep?

Despite what you may think, it doesn't always work out that deep sleepers get the best sleep. It's a combination of quality and quantity that you need for a well-rested slumber. Heavy sleepers can sleep for a significantly shorter period of time than light sleepers but if they've alternated through the sleep stages for adequate periods of time then they'll awake feeling more refreshed and better rested.

What Supplements Increase Deep Sleep?

Before seeing your doctor about prescribed sleep aids, it's always worth trying some of the recommended natural remedies that have been proven to help. But note, just because these are natural, they aren't without side-effects or health risks if misused so still check with your doctor before introducing them to your bedtime routine:

  1. Melatonin - The hormone released that tells your body when to sleep and wake can work wonders for short-term sleep issues such as jet lag but should not be taken for more prolonged periods of time.
  2. Lavender - Adding a few lavender drops to your pillow or using a diffuser in your room will help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure and skin temperature.
  3. CBD Oil - Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound in marijuana and hemp plants (the bit that doesn't get you high). Some swear by it to help them feel more chilled out and drift off to sleep quicker than without.
  4. Chamomile - Known as a soothing tea, a cup before bed can have a calming effect thanks to an antioxidant called apigenin which relaxes brain receptors.
  5. Glycine - This is a tiny amino acid that can raise the amount of serotonin - a brain chemical that affects sleep - in your body. It also helps blood circulation and drops your body temperature, both of which help you get to the land of nod.
  6. Magnesium - Particularly useful if you feel your lack of quality sleep is being caused by muscle and nerve issues such as restless leg syndrome. Magnesium is a naturally occurring mineral that supports muscle and nerve function and energy production in the body.

Which Food Is Good for Deep Sleep?

There are many different foods to try that are thought to get you feeling tired and promote good quality sleep when used as part of a healthy diet:

  1. Almonds - A super food that's rich in loads of antioxidants plus melatonin and magnesium that are related to good sleep. Try a handful before bed.
  2. Kiwi fruit - While packed full of vitamin C and potassium it's actually the serotonin in kiwis which regulates sleep cycle that could be the deciding factor in whether it's a good pre-bedtime snack.
  3. Turkey - If you feel sleepy after Christmas dinner it might not just be down to the general overindulgence of Christmas! Turkey is a great lean meat rich in protein which is thought to help better sleep. Plus, it contains tryptophan - an amino acid that increases the production of melatonin.
  4. Fatty fish - Salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel boast big amounts of vitamin D plus omega-3 fatty acids, and it's the combination of the vitamin D and fatty acids that increases the production of serotonin in the brain. On the nights you're not eating turkey try oily fish for sleep inducing benefits.
  5. White rice - Advice is to eat high glycemic index (GI) foods an hour before bed to hit sleepy time at just the right point. White rice, in comparison to its brown counterpart, is lower in fibre, but still high in carbs making it high in GI which is a measure of how quickly food increases your blood sugar.

What Drinks Are Good for Deep Sleep?

It's not just foods that are lauded for their sleep boosting hormones and brain chemicals. Try these drinks before bed too to help you fall asleep faster and deeper.

  1. Chamomile - A soothing cup of chamomile tea can be a wonder product. Not only does it ooze antioxidants that reduce diseases such as cancer and heart disease but it also boosts immunity and helps with depression and anxiety. Most notably for sleep, it has apigenin which causes brain receptors to bind and promote sleepiness.
  2. Tart cherry juice - Another super drink, tart cherry juice boats potassium, magnesium and high amounts of melatonin which helps regulate sleep. A small sleep study concluded that those who drank a glass twice a day for two weeks reported more refreshing and longer sleep.
  3. Passionflower tea - Passionflower tea also contains apigenin to make you calm before sleep and has the ability to increase gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) production. GABA works to inhibit other brain chemicals that induce stress, such as glutamate.
  4. Malted milk - A classic British tradition such as Horlicks your grandmother would be proud of. If you're more of a warm, milky drink person than someone who enjoys an infusion or tea then malted milk could be the choice for you. It contains plenty of vitamin B, zinc, iron, phosphorous and magnesium - a blend of minerals great for helping you switch off and get drowsy in your PJs.

Is Too Much Deep Sleep Bad?

Too much sleep can have dangerous side-effects, including increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Some studies also suggest that getting too much sleep in any of the sleep stages may leave you feeling as tired as if you've not had enough. Adequate time in deep and REM sleep is ultimately what will make you awake feeling refreshed. Unfortunately, your body has its own drive as to the time it spends in each stage, all you can do is ensure that you establish a soothing and comfortable sleep environment where your body can unwind and naturally rest. If you can concentrate on getting enough uninterrupted sleep then your body will do the rest.

Does Melatonin Increase Deep Sleep?

Our bodies naturally produce melatonin before we sleep and taking a booster in supplement form can be useful for a night or two. However, we'd recommend avoiding melatonin supplements for long periods of time unless your GP has recommended them. Too high a dose can have adverse effects in actually reducing the time spent asleep and sleep quality. It can also cause headaches, nausea and dizziness.

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