Before we discuss the ways to increase deep sleep, we must first answer the question…what is deep sleep?
Scientifically speaking, deep sleep is the third stage of non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is often referred to as “slow-wave sleep” as this is the stage in which your brain waves slow down.
On average, adults experience 4-6 cycles of deep sleep a night. The first cycle tends to last anywhere from 45-90 minutes, with the following cycles becoming shorter throughout the night.
Tip: Evaluate the amount of deep sleep you’re getting each night by investing in a wearable, bedside or under the mattress sleep tracker.
During this deep sleep stage, your breathing and heart rate are at their lowest while your muscles and eyes become very relaxed.
Essentially, this third stage of the sleep cycle is when the brain is able to rest, recover and replenish its energy after a long day of thinking.
What are the Benefits of Deep Sleep?
Deep sleep plays a critical role in your overall cognitive health. During this stage, your brain experiences an increase in glucose metabolism which supports short-term and long-term memory recall and consolidation.
Throughout deep sleep, your pituitary gland secretes human growth hormone which promotes cell regeneration and the repair of body tissue and bones.
Other significant benefits of deep sleep include:
- Increased blood supply to muscles
- Strengthened immune system
- Restored energy
- Balanced metabolism and blood sugar levels
How to Increase Deep Sleep
According to the American Sleep Association, “the most important thing that you can do to increase your amount of deep sleep is to allow yourself adequate total sleep time.”
Aside from making sure you have the suggested 7-9 hours of sleep time available, here are eight additional ways to increase deep sleep:
1. Follow a Sleep-friendly Diet
Research shows that following a healthy, balanced diet is one way to increase deep sleep quality.
According to a study done by the ASA, those who followed a short-term, low-carbohydrate diet saw an increase in the percentage of slow-wave sleep.
Additionally, avoiding spicy and fried foods will decrease the chances of any nighttime heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) that may lead to sleep apnea or insomnia issues.
2. Exercise on a Daily Basis
Another way to improve deep sleep is to exercise for at least 20-30 minutes every day. Some recommended exercises include aerobic-style activities such as jogging, running, or swimming.
The results on what is the optimal time to exercise are mixed. Some studies suggest that those who work out in the A.M are able to fall asleep faster than those who work out late at night. On the other hand, those who work out prior to going to bed report waking up less frequently throughout the night.
To find what works best for you, switch up the times you exercise each day and keep track of your sleep habits each night.
3. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Big Meals Before Bed
Similar to following a sleep-friendly diet, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and big meals prior to bed is a simple approach to increasing deep sleep quality.
Drinking caffeine late in the day can make it harder for you to fall asleep while consuming alcohol before bed can make it harder for you to stay asleep.
Eating a big meal, especially carb-heavy, can do both. Your resting heart rate will increase while your body attempts to metabolize the food prior to falling asleep. Once you are asleep, the digestion process will make it harder for the body to focus on keeping you that way.
4. Limit Blue Light Exposure Prior to Bed
One method to improve deep sleep is to limit or entirely avoid, blue light exposure before bed. Blue light-emitting devices include cell phones, tablets, computers, and TVs.
Exposure to blue light late at night tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime, therefore disrupting your internal clock.
Additionally, studies show that blue light can inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for telling your body to get tired and fall asleep.
5. Stick to a Sleep Schedule
Creating a consistent sleep schedule that you follow even on the weekends is one of the best ways to increase deep sleep.
While you don’t have to fall asleep at the exact same time every night, setting a bedtime window may help you make a habit out of it.
Consistency in your sleep schedule is so imperative because it regulates your natural circadian rhythm and allows you to get a better overall quality of sleep.
6. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Ritual
An important step in improving deep sleep is to ensure that you are stress-free prior to falling asleep.
One way to guarantee this is to create a relaxing bedtime ritual that will allow you to unwind after a long day. Ideas include meditating, reading a book, or taking a bubble bath.
If you find that you are tossing and turning, get out of bed and do something simple until you feel tired again.
7. Listen to Pink Noise
Listening to pink noise as you fall asleep is a proven way to increase the actual amount of time you spend in the deep sleep stage.
Compared to white noise, pink noise is smoother and more soothing. Think waves lapping on the beach or a steady rainfall.
Pink noise can be found on music streaming platforms like Spotify or a variety of smartphone apps.
8. Find Your Perfect Temperature
Your body will naturally decrease in temperature when attempting to fall asleep, so monitoring the temperature of your room can help facilitate this process.
Sleep experts suggest a cool bedroom, anywhere from 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit, for optimal deep sleep quality.
Find your perfect temperature by experimenting with different degree settings until you find the one that makes you most comfortable.