Sleep comes in five stages, and each one has its own part to play in helping you wake feeling rested. But miss that critical deep sleep phase and you might not wake feeling fully rested at all.
Many of us have a turbulent relationship with sleep. We’ve all experienced those nights when you lie there, unable to drift off despite your best efforts. Even on those occasions where we nod off quickly at night and seemingly get a good 8 hours, there are still occasions when we wake up feeling groggy and fatigued?
This is why the quality of your sleep is so important, as well as the quantity. Having a couple of drinks in the evening might help you fall asleep quicker, but the quality of the sleep you experience will suffer as a result. Similarly, a long lie-in at the weekend is not as valuable if you are tossing and turning because the bedroom is too warm.
Understanding more about sleep can help you craft a better relationship with it. We’re going to take a closer look at the various stages of sleep, including deep sleep.
What are the different stages of sleep?
Sleep is a complex and, ultimately, still a mysterious process. It’s vital for repairing damage done to both your body and mind, allowing them to rest after the toils of the day.
What we do know is that sleep comes in five stages. To put it simply, the first four of these see us move from light sleep to deep, physically restorative sleep. The fifth stage is REM sleep (or Rapid Eye Movement sleep), which is the very active stage of sleep in which most of our dreams occur.
But we don’t just go through one cycle in the night; we go through several. Each full cycle usually lasts around 90 minutes, and no one stage of sleep is more important than the other. In terms of deep sleep, it should ideally take up around 20% of your night’s total rest, which works out at between 80 and 120 minutes of deep sleep per night.
What happens if you don’t get enough deep sleep?
Deep sleep is where we experience cell restoration, the release of growth hormone and valuable immune system support. It’s also a time for muscle repair and hormone regulation. Because of this, missing out on deep sleep means you’re more likely to feel ill, suffer from mental issues such as anxiety and depression, or even gain weight.
It’s difficult to analyse the different sleep stages individually, as they are all intrinsically tied together. Missing out on deep sleep in turn means that you aren’t getting enough sleep within the other stages. And when we miss out on good sleep, we put our health at risk; stretching one bad night into chronic sleep loss can cause mood swings, irritability, depression and even an increased risk of serious physical health conditions like heart disease.
Can you increase the amount of deep sleep you get?
As we mentioned, it’s difficult to focus on each sleep stage individually, because each one relies on the other four in order to provide high quality sleep. Therefore, you should focus less on how much deep sleep you get, and more on how to improve the overall quality of your sleep – i.e. long periods of the night spent in optimal sleep conditions. Get the sleep environment and your pre-bed routine right and good sleep quality is much more likely to follow.
Establish regular sleep and wake times to get your body used to a certain schedule. This will make falling asleep quicker and easier. Avoid sleep deterrents in the hour before bed, including caffeine, bright screens, vigorous exercise and snacks. Instead, try reading or engaging in some meditation to encourage your body to unwind. You should also keep your sleep space cool and dark to avoid discomfort and disruption during the night.