Although it’s vital to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night, it’s also essential to ensure that you’re getting good quality, deep sleep. This is because information processing, clearing toxins, cell repairing, and releasing human growth hormone happens during deep sleep.
The four stages of a sleep cycle
Your body moves through an average of four to six sleep cycles every night. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes and consists of four stages:
Stage 1 occurs within one to five minutes of a sleep cycle. This is when your breathing and heartbeat start to slow as you transition into sleep.
Stage 2 takes about 10 to 60 minutes. This phase is also known as light sleep, wherein your breathing and heart rate continue to slow.
Stage 3 takes about 20 to 40 minutes. This phase is known as deep sleep because it’s the deepest sleep you get throughout the night. This is when your brainwave frequencies slow down. It’s also difficult to wake up from this stage.
Stage 4 is also known as REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. This is when your eyes move quickly under your eyelids, your brain is active, and you have the most dreams.
Benefits of deep sleep
Out of all the sleep stages, deep sleep only takes up 13% to 23% or between 55 to 97 minutes each night. Deep sleep is crucial because it’s essential for the optimal functioning of the brain and the body. This is because, during deep sleep, the following processes take place:
Processing of memories and information
Repairing any cell damage to boost the immune system
Clearing out toxins
The release of human growth hormone
Because deep sleep is crucial for the body, it’s essential to ensure you get enough of it. Below are ways to increase the deep sleep you’re getting at night.
Exercise can improve sleep by decreasing how long it takes to fall asleep. Exercise may also help realign your internal body clock and relieve anxiety, improving the quality of your sleep and increasing deep sleep.
Aerobic exercises, like jogging, work best to increase your deep sleep. In particular, moderate aerobic exercises, like walking, may help you spend more time in the deep sleep stage.
If you have insomnia, sleep experts recommend exercising earlier in the day. This is because exercise releases hormones that can stimulate your brain and make you feel more alert. In general, exercising at least three times per week can help improve your sleep quality.
Avoid caffeine close to bedtime
Drinking caffeinated beverages, like coffee or tea, increases your brain and nervous system activity, making it harder to get deep sleep. Furthermore, caffeine can decrease all stages of sleep and cause sleep disruption. Sleep experts recommend avoiding caffeine after 3:00 pm. However, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, it’s best to avoid caffeine as early as noon, as caffeine’s effects may last longer than you think.
Get more sunlight
Getting sunlight helps set your biological clock. Getting at least 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure in the morning cues your body that it's wake-up time. So when it's bedtime, you're ready to sleep better.
A small study in 2014 explored the effects of getting at least 30 minutes of sunlight at 11:00 am every day for six weeks. The researchers found that people who got their dose of the sun had better quality sleep than those who didn’t get sunlight in their daily routines.
Take hot baths before bedtime
A hot bath increases core body temperature, which drops when you get out of the tub. This temperature shift is identical to when you fall asleep, so it signals to your body that it’s time to sleep.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that taking a hot bath before bed can help you fall asleep faster and increase your deep sleep. However, the researchers also noted that more studies are still needed.
Sleep experts recommend taking a hot bath one and a half hours before bedtime to get its benefits. In addition, the bath should last at least 10 minutes, giving your body time to heat.
Use a sleep eye mask
Sleep eye masks help block light that can prevent or reduce sleep quality. Light signals to the body that it’s time to wake up, so it’s important to keep light away from your eyes.
In a 2017 study, researchers found that combining a sleep mask and earplugs helped improve sleep quality.
If you’re not a fan of sleep masks, you might want to install blackout curtains in your room. But bring a sleep mask when traveling to get good sleep quality wherever you may be.
The bottom line
When it comes to taking good care of yourself, good quality sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise. But ensuring you get good quality deep sleep is vital for repairing cell damage and learning.
The good news is that you can control the quality of your sleep by ensuring you get sunlight during the day, exercising, avoiding caffeine close to bedtime, taking hot baths, and using sleep masks.
Which of these tips will you implement in your daily routine?