Sleep is often seen as a luxury, but it’s actually one the most fundamental parts of being a healthy, well-functioning human. If you were a house, deep sleep would be the concrete slab – the foundation that everything is built on.
Experts tell us that we’re supposed to clock between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but we know that’s easier said than done. We’re living in a world that constantly competes for our attention, inevitably leaking into our evenings and robbing us of precious slumber.
Deep sleep is what refreshes the brain and repairs the body, so if you’re someone who doesn’t sleep enough or gets eight hours and still wakes up tired, you’re probably lacking this particular phase of shut eye. It’s the key to functioning like a boss human.
These tips will help you understand and maximise deep sleep, so you can kiss goodbye days of rolling into work on five hours’ sleep wearing half a kilo of concealer and cradling a double flat white.
What is deep sleep?
Deep sleep is the stage of sleep with the slowest brain waves, but to understand it, we need to wrap our heads around how sleep works.
Sleep moves in cycles across two phases: non rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. When we drift off, our body will go through four stages of NREM and one of REM sleep.
In stage one of NREM, your body is transitioning between its waking state and sleeping state. Your mind relaxes, your breathing slows, and your muscles sometimes twitch but you can be woken easily. In stage two, you begin to sink into a deeper sleep. You become even more relaxed, your core body temperature drops and your heart rate and brain waves slow.
The magic happens during stages three and four as you slip into proper deep sleep, also known as delta or slow-wave sleep. Brain waves become the slowest they’ll be and this is when the body’s growth and repair processes happen. As a result, deep sleep is the sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning.
Things get even more interesting in stage five, REM sleep. This is where your brain activity is akin to wakefulness and you’ll do most of your dreaming. Your muscles are paralysed so you don’t act out your dreams, while your heart rate increases (it’s pumping more blood to your brain and less to the body) and eyes move rapidly behind your eyelids. REM sleep is also thought to be important for learning and creating new memories.
How long does deep sleep last and why does it matter?
A complete sleep cycle takes 90 to 110 minutes on average and deep sleep (stage three and four) lasts between 20 to 40 minutes. Interestingly, deep sleep lasts for longer periods in the first half of the night and becomes shorter with each sleep cycle.
But here’s the clincher: you can’t reach deep sleep without moving through the other levels of sleep first, so this is why experts recommend at least seven uninterrupted hours of slumber per night. It gives your body enough time to complete multiple sleep cycles, banking a couple hours of deep sleep.
Slow-wave sleep is important because it helps us process short-term and long-term memory and overall learning and keeps blood sugar down, therefore controlling weight. It regulates and promotes hormone production, including human growth hormone (responsible for growth and development) and it’s when the body repairs itself, regenerates cells, restores energy levels and strengthens the immune system. Looking long term, deep sleep minimises your likelihood of developing health issues like neurodegenerative disease and stroke.
In other words, deep sleep is your brain and body’s nightly tune up. It’s so crucial that without it, even if you ate like a nutritionist and worked out like a PT, you’d never reach your full potential.
How do you improve your sleep quality?
The secret to a happy and healthy you is to get as much quality sleep as possible. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to ensure you start to hit those deep notes.
#1 Pick a consistent sleep time
Routine can help your body understand when it’s time to wind down at night, supporting your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. Before long, you’ll find yourself naturally sleepy around your created bedtime.
A tip when setting your alarm is to take into account how long you usually need in order to fall asleep. For example, if you take an hour to drift off then set aside 8.5 or nine hours before your morning alarm.
#2 Create a nightly bedtime ritual
To bolster your schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine to unwind from the day, like reading a book, enjoying an elaborate skincare routine or taking a bath. In fact, intense heat is said to increase the amount of slow-wave deep sleep you get as the body works hard to lower your core temperature afterward, so a long hot bath or sauna before bed can actually work wonders.
#3 Make yourself cool and comfortable and get a decent pillow
Tossing and turning on an uncomfortable or unsupportive mattress isn’t going to help you fall asleep. Samesies for being overheated. The body needs to relax and regulate in temperature, so choosing a clever mattress is important.
Our famously comfy Koala mattress is made of breathable, open cell foam which promotes airflow to keep your temperature regulated all night long. There’s a body-aligned support layer which prevents disturbance, so you’ll fall asleep more quickly and then stay asleep comfortably. Our memory foam pillow follows the same philosophy.
#4 Move your body
In news that surprises no one, exercising helps to increase your quality of deep sleep. We reckon 20 to 30 minutes of exercise will do the trick and try to get it done in the morning before the day gets away.
#5 Ease up on certain bevvies
You knew this was coming: caffeine and alcohol disrupt your quality of sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant we all know and love, but it takes about six hours for one half of the caffeine to be eliminated out of your system. Keep your flat white or tea order well away from bedtime or it’ll propel you into a vicious cycle: you don’t get enough deep sleep and wake up tired, reach for more caffeine, which in turn disrupts your ability to get enough deep, restorative sleep. Rinse and repeat.
While alcohol is a sedative and many people find they fall asleep more quickly after a night on the booze, they can wind up putting their sleep cycles out of whack. Alcohol before bed can cause you to have more REM sleep than deep sleep, of one may reasons for waking up dusty.
#6 Get yourself some blue blockers already
We’re not going to tell you to the #1 sleep promoting tip is to avoid screens before bed, because that’s just not realistic. But you should definitely invest in some high-quality amber or red-tinted blue light blocking glasses to minimise your exposure to blue light.
Used in everything from your phone and laptop to LED lights throughout your home, blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin production, telling your body that it’s still day time and to stay awake. Minimising exposure helps your body slip naturally into sleep at night.
With these simple tweaks you should be able to break yourself out of perpetual tiredness and start waking up fresh. Happy days…