Many people think of sleep as one continuous process.
Unknown to them, a typical sleep cycle consists of several phases. Each of these stages provides certain benefits to our overall health and well-being.
This article takes a closer look at deep sleep, with a special focus on what it constitutes and how to maximize it.
What Is Deep Sleep?
The term “deep sleep” is frequently used in common parlance to denote the phase during sleep marked by restful sleep. While there’s some truth in that, other defining features of deep sleep distinguish it from other sleep phases.
Deep sleep is more accurately defined as the third stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. It’s also known as NREM Stage-3.
Now, humans (and most mammals) experience two main sleep phases: non-rapid eye movement, NREM sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Rapid eye movement sleep derives its name from the fact that this sleep phase is characterized by rapid but involuntary eye movements within the sockets. Other noteworthy things during REM sleep include heightened brain electrical activity and ataxia.
On the other hand, non-rapid eye movement sleep doesn’t involve significant random movements. NREM sleep also lacks the intense brain activities and loss of muscle control that’s common in REM sleep.
NREM sleep falls into three distinct categories- NREM Stage-1, NREM Stage-2, and NREM Stage-3.
As already indicated, deep sleep constitutes NREM Stage-3. In other words, it’s the third of the four sleep phases.
It’s also worth noting that a typical sleep cycle begins with the three NREM sub-phases before winding up in REM sleep. The cycle then continues until dawn, when your circadian rhythms signal your body to wake up.
What Are the Benefits of Deep Sleep?
We’ve already hinted that each sleep phase comes with certain health benefits. However, deep sleep accounts for most of the sleep’s therapeutic properties.
Reduced muscle activity is one of the phenomena during NREM Stage-3 sleep. The resultant muscle relaxation can help to prevent cramping or spasticity. It may also reduce sensitivity to pain and inflammation, allowing you to sleep for longer hour blocks.
NREM Stage-3 is also associated with enhanced cognitive functions. Studies have shown that spending more time in a deep sleep might aid memory consolidation. That explains why this sleep phase is sometimes also known as “sleep-dependent memory processing.”
Getting restful sleep every night might aid other aspects of cognitive performance besides boosting your memory. There’s sufficient evidence that deep sleep causes slow brain waves called delta waves, which can support problem-solving, increase your attention span, and help develop problem-solving skills.
Finally, deep sleep increases the release of growth hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones are secreted by the pituitary glands in the brain. An increase in growth hormones is especially beneficial for infants and children still in their active growth stages of life.
How to Maximize Deep Sleep?
1. Work on Your Stress Levels
Anxiety and sleep deprivation share a cause-effect relationship.
Stressful feelings can prolong your sleep latency while also causing frequent sleep disruptions. Inadequate sleep can further increase the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream, leading to a vicious cycle of insomnia and anxiety.
That explains why managing stress and anxiety is a proactive way to improve sleep quality.
2. Follow a Robust Workout Routine
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, exercising in the afternoon raises the core body temperature. This signals your body clock to stay awake.
However, after about 30 – 90 minutes, your core body temperature will fall. The gradual decline in body temperature signals your circadian rhythms that it’s time to sleep.
The best time to exercise for better sleep is in the early afternoon. Working out later in the evening might keep you awake for much longer.
3. Mind Your Diet
There’s a reason many nutritionists recommend eating heavy breakfasts and light dinners.
Note that metabolic processes typically slow down in a deep sleep. That leaves your body with insufficient time to digest heavy meals.
Improper food digestion can lead to a range of sleep-disrupting gastrointestinal complications, such as constipation, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. The frequent trips to the bathroom may worsen the situation in terms of keeping you awake much longer.
4. Cut Back on Caffeine
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that can provide an extra dose of energy and motivation. But that’s only if consumed at the right time.
Multiple studies have established a close relationship between caffeine intake and sleep deprivation. While most of these studies examined caffeine’s impact on sleep in general, NREM Stage-3 appears to be the most adversely affected sleep phase.
Therefore, avoid caffeinated drinks late in the evening. Replace these beverages with soothing herbal extracts instead.
5. Avoid Blue Light-emitting Devices at Bedtime
The digital era and social media craze have made smartphones one of the most in-demand technological gadgets.
Unfortunately, many people have no limits on when and where to interact with their phones.
Research has shown that using devices with screens right before bedtime can reduce sleep quality in young people. This applies to smartphones as well as laptops, televisions, and video game consoles.
The Bottom Line
Deep sleep is arguably the most essential part of every sleep cycle. Having a restful sleep every night can provide immense therapeutic benefits.
Hopefully, you can implement the above-listed tips to achieve quality sleep and unlock the health benefits that come with it.