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Last Updated October 18, 2023
Do you get enough sleep and still wake up feeling tired? Well, as it turns out, you might not be getting restful sleep. The quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity. One important aspect of the sleep quality is deep sleep or slow wave sleep. This phase leaves you feeling revitalized and prepared for the day ahead. If you find yourself regularly waking up without that sense of refreshment, you might be dealing with a deficit of this slow wave sleep. Let’s get into details of how you can get more deep sleep.
One goes through different stages of sleep throughout the night. Deep sleep is the stage that contributes the most to the restorative effects of sleep. To understand deep sleep better, let’s learn about these sleep stages.
Sleep is divided into two phases: REM and NREM sleep. NREM sleep has three sleep stages, followed by one REM sleep stage. One sleep cycle is approximately 90-110 minutes long, and a typical night’s sleep consists of 4-5 cycles.
This is a relatively small stage that lasts for about 1-5 minutes and makes up a total of 5% of your total sleep time. During this stage, your brain produces high amplitude but low frequency (3.5-4.5 Hz) theta waves, which are slow brainwaves occurring primarily in the brain’s frontal lobe. The brain’s activity starts to slow down, and breathing, eye movement, and heartbeat slows with it. This is the stage of transition from wakefulness to sleep; hence, it is very easy to wake someone from this stage of sleep.
This stage lasts about 20-25 minutes per cycle, and about half of sleep time is spent in this light stage of sleep. Your body relaxes further in this stage of sleep, and you become less aware of your surroundings, eye movements begin to still, and body temperature dips.
Sleep spindles and K-complexes characterize this stage of sleep. Sleep spindles are bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity that play a role in learning and memory, while K-complexes are long delta waves that are shown to play a role in maintaining sleep and memory consolidation.
This is the stage of deeper sleep, where any environmental noises or disturbances might fail to awaken you. During this deep sleep stage, your muscles are much more relaxed, blood pressure drops, and brain waves slow down even further. This is when the body starts its reparation and regeneration while the brain does memory consolidation, emotional processing, and other essential functions.
If someone is awakened from this deeper sleep, they might experience something called sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is a physiological state that persists during the transition from sleep to wakefulness. A person might experience grogginess, disorientation, and decreased motor dexterity due to sleep inertia.
During this stage, the brain produces low-frequency, high-amplitude delta waves, which is why it is also called slow wave sleep or delta sleep. If someone has alpha brain wave activity even during this stage of sleep, they won’t feel refreshed upon waking up, regardless of their sleep duration.
This is the final stage of sleep cycle, which begins almost 90 minutes after falling asleep. The duration of each REM stage keeps increasing throughout the night, with the first lasting for about 10-15 minutes, while the last one might last up to an hour.
This stage is characterized by rapid movements of the eyes and diaphragmatic breathing. Your brain lights up with activity during this stage, resembling the activity of the brain during waking hours, and one experiences dreams. However, the body is temporarily paralyzed during this stage, which prevents us from acting out our dreams.
At this point, it is important to note that one doesn’t go through these stages in the same sequence during the entirety of sleep. Usually, one goes through stages 1, 2, and 3 in sequence, then back to stage 2 before entering the REM sleep. It is also important to note that the duration of each stage varies throughout the night as the cycle repeats.
There can be various reasons why you might not be getting restful sleep. Some common reasons are reduced sleep drive, substance use, sleep disorders (like sleep apnea), or unhealthy sleep habits. All these factors can reduce deep sleep. Whatever the reason, the good thing is that it can be worked around. There are various healthy sleep habits and sleep tips that you can inculcate in your routine to get more deep sleep.
Naps are a great way to take a break during a hectic day, and they can help increase alertness and other cognitive abilities. However, there is a downside to naps: they might reduce your sleep drive during the night. Napping late afternoon or taking long naps can significantly reduce your sleep drive. Avoiding these daytime Zzzs can help you improve deep sleep at night. If you have to take a nap, taking a small 20-30 minute nap early in the afternoon is recommended.
Exercise and sleep have long been associated with each other, sharing a bidirectional relationship. Studies have shown that exercising during the day can tremendously affect sleep quality, sometimes even reducing the symptoms of some sleep disorders. So, having an active lifestyle or taking 20-30 minutes every day to work out can help you get more deep sleep.
Caffeine might be helping you get by your day and get work done, but it’s not helping you get by your night. We know caffeine is an integral part of our lives; however, consuming too much or closer to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. Even if you can fall asleep, the caffeine in your body can prevent you from getting deep sleep. So limit your caffeine if you want to get some deep sleep.
Blue lights fool your brain into thinking it’s daytime and delay melatonin production. This can severely affect the quality of your sleep. Try to stay away from screens at least one hour before bedtime. Some devices also feature reading mode or night mode, which filters out blue light; you can use those settings to keep away from blue light while using your devices during the evening.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps your circadian rhythm (body's sleep wake cycle) stay aligned with your routine. This keeps your body and mind prepared for sleep, which not only helps you fall asleep quicker but also enhances the quality of your sleep. A consistent sleep schedule on all days – including weekends – can massively improve your sleep quality.
Having a bedtime routine is one of the most important sleep hygiene practices. Your bedtime routine should be something that helps you unwind and get ready for sleep. It could be anything like journaling, listening to music or podcasts, painting, reading a book, etc. Make sure it’s not something too stimulating that can result in you being more awake. Having a consistent bedtime routine also cues your body to get ready for sleep.
Another very crucial aspect of quality sleep is the sleep environment. While most people care to keep their sleep environment comfortable and cozy, they usually forget one very important aspect of it – bedding. Your mattress can disrupt your sleep; if it is too soft or too firm, you might not notice it at first, but it can cause discomfort in sleep and affect sleep quality. Therefore, getting a comfortable, good-quality mattress is necessary for getting some deep sleep.
Noise from your surroundings can affect your sleep quality, too. They might not completely wake you, but they can bring you out of your deep sleep. A consistent background noise like a white or pink noise can help filter out the distracting background noises and enhance your sleep quality.
Deep sleep is one of the most important stages of sleep because it is why we wake up feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day ahead. But what makes it so important? In this section, we look at all the important functions deep sleep plays for us.
During deep sleep, our body releases growth hormone, which helps build and repair tissues. All your body’s maintenance work is done during the night, from normal wear and tear to healing injuries; everything happens much faster during the night. That’s partly because of the release of growth hormones and partly because all the body’s resources are allocated to healing while you sleep.
We acquire a lot of information daily, which is processed during sleep. During sleep, our brain goes through unique brainwaves associated with memory consolidation. Memory consolidation is sorting the information acquired during the day and storing the important ones in long-term memory.
Regulating and controlling emotions is a key aspect of improving interpersonal as well as intrapersonal relationships. We need to manage stress and act rationally in social situations. Deep sleep seems to play an important role in helping us regulate our emotions. Sleep deprived people can easily be agitated and loose their cool. If you have ever skipped sleeping due to any event and got irritable, now you know the reason.
Our body produces cytokines, T-cells, and natural killer cells during sleep. These cells are an integral part of our immune system. T-cells and natural killer cells are responsible for locating and eliminating pathogens, while cytokines, the immune system activators, defend against infections and diseases. Thus, sleep ensures better immunity by promoting the production of these cells.
Sleep is associated with the production and reduction of many hormones. For instance, deep sleep helps reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, and it increases the production of the human growth hormone, which helps in muscle growth and repair. It also plays a role in metabolic hormones, insulin, thyroid stimulating hormone, etc. Sleep deprivation can cause an imbalance in the bodily hormones. Therefore, deep sleep is essential to maintain hormonal homeostasis.
Roughly 75% of your sleep time is spent in NREM sleep, while the remaining 25% is spent in REM sleep. Now, there is no hard and fast rule for the amount of deep sleep, but on average, one should spend around.
The amount of deep sleep also varies with age; younger people generally need more slow wave sleep because it helps with growth and development. Deep sleep decreases in old age, where you might need 2 hours of deep sleep in your teenage, you might be getting half an hour of deep sleep beyond the age of 60.
So, for school-aged kids and teenagers, the average amount of deep sleep per night should be around 20-25%, and for older adults, it should be 16-20%.
We are now aware of how much deep sleep we need and why it is important, but how do we know if we’re getting enough of it or not? One obvious thing is if you wake up feeling exhausted, you’re probably not getting enough of it. However, some wearable devices and fitness trackers can help you track your sleep and know the patterns better.
These devices use measurements like movement during sleep and heart rate to track your sleep. Some devices can even measure and track your oxygen levels and EEG. While these devices can give you an overview of your sleep patterns using these measurements, they might not be that reliable for the amount of deep sleep you’re getting.
If you want to get your sleep professionally measured, your doctor might recommend a sleep study called Polysomnography. This test requires you to sleep in a lab while hooked to monitors that will measure your brain waves, heart rate, oxygen levels, movements, etc.
Nothing seems to improve your sleep? Maybe it’s time to consult a sleep expert. If you have tried everything and nothing is working for you, there might be some underlying cause to your problem, and it’s best to consult a specialist about the issue. A sleep specialist can perform a thorough evaluation and may recommend a sleep study to diagnose sleep disorders. In some cases, they might even prescribe sleep medicine to help manage certain sleep conditions.
To conclude, deep sleep is essential to feeling refreshed and energized throughout the day. It helps your body recover after a hectic day and fuels you for a productive tomorrow. By following the tips mentioned in this blog post and meticulously tracking your sleeping patterns, it is pretty much possible to improve your deep sleep duration. So why not get started and reap the benefits of adequate deep sleep?
Inculcating certain healthy habits in your routine and refraining from certain things can get you to get more deep sleep. For instance, exercising, having a consistent schedule, and comfortable bedding can all help with deep sleep. On the other hand, refraining from taking naps and consuming caffeine also promote deep sleep.
Since deep sleep has restorative effects on one, not getting enough of it can considerably affect a person's functioning. It can lead to deterioration in person's cognitive abilities like memory and learning, reduced immunity resulting in infections and other health issues.
On an average, one should spend about 20-25% of their sleep time in deep sleep, amounting up to 1.5 to 2 hours per night. However, the amount of deep sleep reduces with age, therefore most older adults spend about 16-20% of their time in deep sleep.
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Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.