5 Ways to Get More Deep Sleep
We all want more sleep—but if beggars could be choosers, deep sleep might be the favored pick of the sleep-deprived. The most restorative form of sleep, deep sleep is when the brain consolidates memories and recovers from daily activities, according to the American Sleep Association.
What is deep sleep—and why is it important?
Generally, sleep is broken up into five stages. Stages three and four are the deep kind, and they usually happen in the first third of the night, says clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, PhD. These stages of sleep are characterized by slow delta brain waves and account for the most restorative sleep you'll experience during the night. Deep sleep is essential for refreshing your mind and body. Tissue repair happens during deep sleep.
How much deep sleep do you need?
How much deep sleep you're able to get will vary based on your age, health, medications, and habits—but usually, it accounts for about 25% of total sleep time, Breus says (so about an hour-and-a-half or two hours a night).
How can you tell if you're getting enough deep sleep?
Without measuring your sleep (something smartwatches like Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Garmin do a decent job of), it's hard to know what sleep stages you've been in, says Andreas Meistad, a cognitive behavioral therapist and founder of Sleepedy.com. A sleep study can also accurately relay this information.
Generally, though, deep sleep is associated with the body and REM sleep is all about the brain, Meistad says—so signs you're low on deep sleep might be more physical: low energy, fatigue, food cravings, or trouble with fine motor skills.
How do you get more deep sleep?
The best way to get more deep sleep is to make sure you're getting enough sleep in general. But beyond logging eight hours a night, these suggestions can help you spend more time in deep sleep.
Tire yourself out
A little bit of science: Every minute you're awake, your body produces a hormone called adenosine, explains Meistad. When enough adenosine builds up, your brain shuts off its wake-promoting areas. That's why it's important to build up enough “sleep pressure" to want to fall asleep every night. Two things that stand in adenosine's way: caffeine, which hides the hormone from the brain, and napping, which decreases adenosine levels in the body. So if you think you're lacking shut-eye, try cutting back on both.
Exercise is another great way to tire yourself out and improve sleep quality to boot, says Breus. You usually need a little bit more R&R after exercise, which means your body might produce more growth hormone, as it tends to be released in higher levels during deep sleep, he says.
It's easy to work late, get sucked into a new Netflix series, or go straight from a busy day to bed—but taking a bath or reading a book for a few minutes before bed can help your body enter sleep more easily and help you get the rest it needs, says Tamsin Nicholson, founder of Yekize, an organization aimed at promoting the benefits of the placebo effect. “When your arousal system is activated because the brain thinks there is a threat, you will sleep lighter," adds Meistad, who notes that both meditation and mindfulness can reduce stress and prep the body for sleep too.
Need a little more help winding down? Melatonin supplements can help you feel more tired, Nicholson says. “If other options haven't worked, it may be a good idea to speak to your doctor about melatonin."
Relax your body
“One reason people don't get a great amount of sleep is because they are in pain," says Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling in Niantic, Conn. That's why she suggests stretching and gentle yoga for 10 minutes before bed a few nights a week. “By spending time stretching before you go to bed, your spine will be flexible, your lower back will be relieved, and your mind will be more at peace."
To reap even more benefits, incorporate a short meditation, which could help promote a more restful and deep sleep, she says.
Make your bedroom a place for sleeping
“A lot of people will take their phones to bed or sit in bed watching TV or reading," says Nicholson. “If you take these 'awake' activities out of the bedroom, your body will start to subconsciously view the bedroom as a place for sleeping. Therefore, when you do go to bed, your body will already be preparing itself for sleep, making it more likely you'll experience deep sleep."
Stop trying so hard to sleep
Simply closing your eyes without worrying about whether or not you're going to fall asleep could help you find rest more easily. “We can't control sleep, and we can't force ourselves into sleep," says Meistad. That's why he suggests taking the pressure off. “Some that struggle with insomnia have even found it helpful to actively try to stay awake," he says. “This method is called paradoxical intention and works because trying too hard causes anxiety and anxiety keeps you awake."
Learn more about how stress messes with your sleep and what to do about it.