What is Deep Sleep?
Deep sleep is also known as Slow Wave Sleep, or SWS. It takes time for your brain to get into SWS. You have to pass through two stages of lighter sleep to fall into this critical, healing level of sleep. It’s at this point in your sleeping cycle that your heartbeat and breathing reach their lowest rate. In addition, your brain waves are at their slowest pattern during SWS.
Sleep Cycles Defined
Sleep comes in stages as you move from just nodding off into deep sleep and finally in to the dream state.
Stage One: Light stage sleep (can be called a cat nap.) During this sleep stage, you’re easily awakened. If you’ve ever woken yourself up snoring, it was probably during this stage of sleep. Your brain begins to produce alpha and theta waves, preparing for stage two.
Stage Two: During stage two, your brain waves actually power up, then drop down as your brain prepares for deep sleep. These spikes in brain wave activity are known as spindles. If you wake up from stage two, you might find yourself quite energized and able to get back into your day.
Stages Three and Four: During stages three and four, your brain produces much slower delta waves. You’ll be hard to wake up via touch, and your alarm may beep for quite a while before you can pull yourself out of this deepest sleep cycle.
Additionally, this phase of sleep is when your body heals. Even if you’re done growing, your sore muscles need this sleep after a hard workout. Additionally, this is the sleep pattern that boosts your immune system.
This sleep phase is referred to as Slow Wave Sleep (SWS). SWS is the portion of your sleep cycle that occurs right before REM or dream sleeping occurs.
Stage Five: REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. These phases generally start about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and can last for up to an hour in adults. Most of the dreams your brain produces happen during REM sleep. In addition to dreaming, REM sleep is when your brain places events from your day into your long-term memory.
Dangers of Not Getting Enough Deep Sleep
Getting enough deep sleep will contribute to brain health, physical healing and boosting your immune system. Health hazards of missing out on quality SWS include a higher risk of
- heart disease
- dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease
A Guide To How to Get More Deep Sleep
Many of us used to be able to work (or play) for hours on end, fall into bed, sleep hard and get up and do it again. As we age, we need to start making great sleep a habit or struggle with exhaustion, made worse by the frustration of not being able to drop off no matter how tired we are.
Habits That Can Help You Get More Deep Sleep
1) Keep a schedule
Just like you set a daily alarm, work hard to get to bed at around the same time every night, even on the weekends.
2) Physically wind down before your scheduled bedtime
Don’t exercise right before bed. Even stretching or a simple yoga routine may elevate your heart rate, so try to have all of your fitness goals reached by one hour prior to your sleeping time target.
Meditation is a great way to clear away the stresses of the day. By meditating within an hour of your bedtime, you can go to bed with fewer worries that might keep you awake once your head is on the pillow.
4) Replace your pillow
If your pillows are beautiful and match your decor, they may not be great sleeping tools. If you sleep on your side, get a fuller, molded pillow designed for side sleepers. If you sleep on your back, look for a thinner pillow. Tummy sleepers may sleep best with no pillow at all.
5) Keep your bedroom dark
Avoid having a television or other electronic screens in your bedroom. If you need noise, look for a phone app or invest in a noise machine that will create a low hum or static. Reduce your exposure to bright light at least an hour before bedtime.
6) Watch your carb intake
A high carb diet can make you edgy and agitated and may lessen the time you spend in SWS. In addition, a large meal right before bed may lead to poor rest as you digest.
7) Avoid alcohol before bed
A glass of wine may relax you, but too much alcohol in the brain can alter your ability to move easily into deep sleep, reducing the restorative quality of your sleep.
8) Sleep in a cool room
The best temperature for a healthy night’s sleep, according to science, is 67 degrees Celsius.
9) Get warm before going to bed
Take a warm bath or shower to relax your body and prepare you to fall asleep more quickly. Hot tubs and saunas can also help prepare your body to move easily into deep sleep.
10) Monitor your caffeine intake if you struggle to get good rest.
Again, this may change as you age. While many of us could have a cup of coffee right before bed and sleep great anyway, your aging body may not handle caffeine all that well anymore. If you struggle to fall asleep, cut off caffeine at 3 pm. If you still find yourself wakeful at bedtime, stop your caffeine intake at noon.
11) Get some help if nothing else works
Figuring out how to get more deep sleep isn’t just about getting rid of the bags under your eyes or having more energy; you may be damaging your brain by denying yourself access to quality Slow Wave Sleep. Invest in your brain’s future by talking with your physician about your sleep problems. If your partner has to have a television in the bedroom, try to rearrange the furniture so you can be away from the screen. Ask your partner to use headphones so you can try to have a more quiet night. Make the changes you need to make to sleep deeply and promote your own well-being.
The advent of the electric light is a great gift, but we modern humans may really struggle to get enough quality rest to stay healthy. If you feel you’re fighting to sleep and just can’t get enough rest, follow the steps above to talk your brain into a good night’s rest. Your future self will really appreciate your efforts!