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How Much Deep Sleep Do You Need Each Night?


We've emphasised it before and we're stressing it now: Sleep is fundamental for overall well-being. While exercise may boost longevity, consistently poor sleep can severely impact both your mental and physical health. But what exactly defines poor-quality sleep? It's not the absence of dreams. The true measure of sleep quality hinges on the amount of deep sleep you receive. Read on to understand the significance of deep sleep, its health advantages, and why it should be your top priority from here on out.

What is Deep Sleep

Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep or delta sleep, is the stage of sleep in which our bodies undergo significant restorative processes. It is characterised by slow brain waves called delta waves, which are interspersed with faster waves. During deep sleep, our bodies are in a state of complete relaxation, and our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing slow down. This stage typically occurs during the first half of the night and comprises about 20-25% of an adult's total sleep time.

The Sleep Cycle

Our sleep isn't just a single, static state. It progresses through various stages, with each stage contributing differently to our overall health and wellness. Broadly speaking, the human sleep cycle consists of two main types: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. The entire sleep cycle repeats approximately every 90 minutes.

Non REM Sleep

Non-REM sleep, as the name implies, is characterised by a lack of the rapid eye movements seen in REM sleep. It is further divided into three main stages:

Stage 1 (N1):
Duration: Several minutes.
Description: A light sleep from which one can be easily awakened. It serves as the transition from wakefulness to sleep. During this stage, there might be occasional muscle contractions, and the eyes move slowly under the eyelids.

Stage 2 (N2):
Duration: About 10-25 minutes.
Description: The onset of what most would consider genuine sleep. Heart rate begins to slow down, body temperature drops slightly, and eye movements stop. Sleep spindles, which are bursts of rapid brain wave activity, become apparent at this stage.

Stage 3 (N3) – Deep Sleep:
Duration: About 20-40 minutes.
Description: This is the deep sleep stage, where the magic happens! It's the most rejuvenating and restorative phase of sleep. It's also the hardest stage from which to be awakened. During deep sleep: Growth hormones are released, facilitating tissue growth and repair. The body's energy stores are replenished. The immune system is strengthened. Brain waves are slower, known as delta waves.

REM Sleep

Duration: About 10 minutes in the first cycle and can lengthen to an hour in subsequent cycles.
Description: This is the stage most commonly associated with vivid dreams. REM sleep is characterised by: Rapid movement of the eyes behind closed lids. Increased brain activity and vivid dreaming. Temporary paralysis of voluntary muscles, a mechanism thought to prevent us from acting out our dreams.

How Much Deep Sleep do we Need?

The amount of deep sleep one requires can vary based on age and individual needs. Here's a general guideline based on age:

Newborns (0-3 months): They spend almost half of their sleep time in deep sleep.
Infants (4-11 months): They might get around 50% or more of their sleep in this deep stage.
Children and teenagers: They often require more deep sleep for growth and development. It’s not uncommon for them to get a significant portion of their sleep (20-25% or more) in the deep sleep stage.
Young adults and middle-aged adults: Typically, they might get 15-20% of their sleep in the deep sleep phase.
Older adults: As people age, the amount of deep sleep tends to decrease. Some older adults might get less than 10% of their sleep in the deep sleep stage.

What Happens if we Don't Get Enough Deep Sleep?

Not getting enough deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, can have a variety of negative effects on both short-term and long-term health. Deep sleep plays several important roles in maintaining overall health:

Physical Restoration: During deep sleep, many of the body's restorative functions occur, such as cell growth and repair, muscle tissue growth, and the release of various growth and repair hormones. Prolonged lack of deep sleep can potentially slow the physical healing process.

Energy Conservation: Deep sleep helps in conserving energy for the following day. Without it, you may feel more tired or fatigued throughout the day.

Brain Health and Memory: Deep sleep plays a significant role in the process of memory consolidation. This is when the brain transfers short-term memories to long-term storage. If you miss out on deep sleep regularly, you may have difficulty retaining new information.

Immune System: Chronic sleep deprivation, including not getting enough deep sleep, can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.

Mood and Mental Health: Consistently missing out on deep sleep can lead to mood disturbances like irritability, anxiety, or even depression. There's also an increased risk for cognitive impairments and difficulty concentrating.

Appetite and Weight: Sleep patterns, including deep sleep, influence the release of hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin. Sleep deprivation can lead to imbalances in these hormones, potentially leading to increased appetite and weight gain.

Risk of Chronic Conditions: Chronic sleep deprivation, including a lack of deep sleep, has been linked to various health conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even a shortened life expectancy.

Clearance of Waste Products: Recent research suggests that the brain removes waste products more efficiently during deep sleep. Without enough deep sleep, toxic proteins might accumulate in the brain, potentially increasing the risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

Emotional Regulation: Deep sleep can also play a role in processing emotional information, which can affect emotional regulation and resilience.

It's important to note that while deep sleep is crucial, other stages of sleep (like REM sleep) also have essential functions. It's the overall sleep architecture, or the distribution and timing of all sleep stages, that is vital for comprehensive health and well-being. If you're concerned about your sleep, it might be beneficial to consult with a sleep specialist or another medical professional.

How to Ensure You Get Enough Deep Sleep

1/ Create a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Establish a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This consistency helps regulate your body's internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and get the deep sleep you need.

2/ Limit Exposure to Screens Before Bed: The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with your body's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. Limit your exposure to screens at least one hour before bedtime to promote better sleep quality. Studies have shown that wearing blue light glasses when using a computer, tablet, kindle, gaming device and smartphone in the evening can improve sleep. Wearing these glasses is a simple and effective way to get better sleep quality, especially for those who work or study in the evening.

3/ Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment: Ensure your bedroom is a sleep-friendly environment by keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet. You can use blackout curtains, white noise machines, and comfortable bedding to create the ideal setting for sleep.

4/ Wear a sleep mask: Sleep masks, also known as eye masks, are a simple yet effective tool that can significantly enhance the quality of your sleep by promoting deep sleep. These masks work by blocking out external light, creating a pitch-black environment that sends a clear signal to the brain that it's time to sleep. The absence of light stimulates the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycle. As melatonin levels increase, our body naturally transitions into a state of relaxation and deep sleep.

5/ Manage Stress: High stress levels can make it difficult to achieve deep sleep. Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, or journaling.

6/ Magnesium bath flakes: Magnesium bath flakes are known for their for their ability to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in various bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function, heart health, and bone density. By soaking in a warm bath with magnesium flakes, the body can absorb the mineral through the skin, promoting relaxation and calming the nervous system. This can help you achieve a deeper and more restful sleep, leading to improved overall health and wellbeing.

7/ Be Mindful of Your Diet: What you eat can affect your sleep quality. Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals before bedtime. Opt for a light, balanced meal in the evening and avoid stimulants that can interfere with your sleep.

The importance of deep sleep cannot be overstated. As we've explored throughout this blog, deep sleep is the cornerstone of optimal physical, mental, and emotional health. It is during this phase of sleep that our bodies undergo critical restorative processes, such as muscle and tissue repair, growth, and the removal of toxins from the brain. Furthermore, deep sleep plays a vital role in memory consolidation and cognitive function, promoting better learning and problem-solving abilities.


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