With the recommended seven to nine hours a night, we spend quite a bit of our time sleeping.1 But by no means is this time wasted — sleep is a complex, restorative, and productive time that is vital to good health.2 Read on to gain a greater understanding of how sleep works and how you might improve the quality of your sleep.
Why Deep Sleep Is So Important
Quality sleep, which includes periods of deep sleep, has been linked to numerous health benefits — both mentally and physically. Deep sleep may support the following:
- Clear thoughts and focus
- Metabolic function
- Brain health
- Balanced mood and behavior
- Healthy motor function3
Sleep is also particularly vital in children and young adults, as it supports the secretion of growth hormone.4
How To Get More Deep Sleep By Creating a Bedtime Ritual
Creating a bedtime ritual may help you to focus on de-stressing from your day, preparing your body for a restful night of sleep. However, there are a few things to consider doing throughout your day that can support your bedtime ritual at night. These include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Avoiding caffeine later in the day
- Reducing stress (i.e., meditation)5
Elements Of A Sustainable Bedtime Ritual
To begin with, allot yourself a half hour to an hour every night for your bedtime routine.6 Once you enter this “ritual zone,” stay committed to seeing it through, and you’ll be sound asleep in no time. Use the allotted time to do the following:
- Cease activities that cause over-stimulation, such as work, computer and smartphone use, video games, aerobic exercise, and TV.
- Choose an activity to create calm, such as listening to relaxing music, gentle stretching, reading, meditating, or taking a bath.
- Optimize your environment by dimming lights.
- Adjust the temperature in your bedroom and home to be slightly cool.
- Close curtains to block light.
- Guide your pet to their bed — ideally, outside of your bedroom.7,8
Now that you know the basics for creating an atmosphere for restorative sleep, learn a bit more about what actually goes on during this very productive time of night.
Understanding Each Stage of Sleep
In its most basic form, sleep can be separated into two types: rapid eye movement sleep (more commonly known as REM sleep) and non-REM sleep, which has three distinct stages.9
How sleep works is relatively simple to understand — each sleep stage is connected to particular brain waves and neuronal activity. During a good night’s sleep, you “cycle” through each stage of non-REM sleep as well as REM sleep multiple times. Toward the end of your sleep (that is, closer to morning), your REM sleep periods become longer and deeper.10
Stage 1: Non-REM Sleep
Stage 1 is a short period of time, lasting only minutes, when you transition from wakefulness to light sleep. It’s marked by a slowing of your eye movements, breathing, and heart rate, as well as occasional twitches from your muscles as they relax. Your brain waves begin to slow down during this period of light transitional sleep.11
Stage 2: Non-REM Sleep
Stage 2 is when you are fully in a state of light sleep before entering into deeper sleep. Just like Stage 1, your breathing and heart rate slow even more, and your muscles relax more deeply. This stage marks a drop in body temperature, and all eye movements cease. While your brain waves slow even more, they uniquely have quick spurts of electrical activity. Stage 2 can be considered the dominant sleep stage, as you spend more time in this stage than any other throughout the repeated cycles.12
Stage 3: Non-REM Sleep
Stage 3 is your deep sleep period of time. This is the sleep that makes you feel rested and alert come morning. Interestingly, it lasts for its longest periods during the first half of your night’s sleep. It’s during this stage that your breathing and heart rate reach their slowest pace, and your muscles are fully relaxed. It may also be hard to wake up during Stage 3, and your brain waves are now even slower — fully immersed in deep sleep.13
During REM sleep, your eyes move quickly back and forth under your closed eyelids. This period first begins at about the 90-minute mark of sleep. Your brain waves are of mixed frequency which more closely resembles those of wakeful brain waves. Additionally, your heart rate and breathing pick up closer to waking levels. This is the period of time in which you are most likely to dream — and to prevent you from acting out your dreams, your muscles in your legs and arms become momentarily paralyzed.14
Now, whoever said sleep was boring?
Get To Know Your Biological Clock: Circadian Rhythm And Sleep-Wake Cycle
Many factors can affect sleep patterns and sleep quality. Two internal mechanisms — circadian rhythm and the sleep-wake cycle — jointly play significant roles in regulating when you sleep and wake.15
Your biological clock cycles in approximately 24-hour periods, or circadians. Circadian rhythms, therefore, are the mental, behavioral, and physical changes that occur throughout this cycle of time. Your natural circadian rhythms may affect:
- Hormone release
- Eating habits
- Body temperature
- Sleep-wake cycle16
What’s more, irregular rhythms are linked to certain health conditions, including mental health issues, sleep disorders, and weight management issues. Circadian rhythms control when you sleep by causing you to feel drowsy at night, due to your biological clock releasing the hormone melatonin.17
Your sleep-wake cycle, which helps determine your sleep needs, is heavily influenced by factors such as:
- Lifestyle (i.e., work schedule)
- Eating habits
- Sleep environment (i.e., temperature, exposure to light)
- Sleep deprivation18
This is why creating a routine and environment that work in harmony with your natural biological clock may help you maximize refreshing deep sleep.
How to Make Yourself Fall Asleep: Easy and Practicable Ideas
14 Healthy Habits for Better Sleep: A How-To Guide
REM Sleep: Why Is It So Important For Good Health?