Updated September 9, 2022
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Deep sleep describes a particular stage of sleep that is important for waking up feeling refreshed and alert. Although there are no definitive guidelines for how much deep sleep you need, experts say that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. There are three stages of NREM sleep: stage 1, stage 2, and stage 3. Deep sleep is a term that describes stage 3 of NREM sleep. Each sleep stage is associated with certain physical processes and benefits, and people cycle through each of these stages several times during a night of sleep.
Learning more about the function and importance of deep sleep can help you get the most out of your nightly rest. We consider the benefits of this sleep stage, the risks associated with a lack of deep sleep, and tips for improving your sleep hygiene.
What Is Deep Sleep?
Deep sleep refers to stage 3 of non-rapid eye movement sleep. During this sleep stage, a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing slow until they reach their lowest levels of the night. Stage 3 sleep is a period of deep muscle relaxation and is often perceived by sleepers as the most refreshing and high quality portion of sleep.
Deep sleep is also called slow-wave or delta sleep, due to the characteristic brain waves that occur during this stage. Sleepers are often hardest to wake up during stage 3 sleep and, if awakened, may experience a period of mental fogginess called sleep inertia.
Initial periods of deep sleep last around 20 to 40 minutes at a time. Periods of deep sleep are usually longer early in the night, likely because a person’s need for rest is highest just after falling asleep. Until middle age, people spend about 10% to 20% of their total sleep time in deep sleep. The percentage of time spent in deep sleep decreases as a person gets older.
The Importance of Deep Sleep
Although scientists are still learning about the purpose and benefits of sleep, it’s clear that sleep impacts just about everything in the mind and body, from mood and immunity to overall health. Deep sleep in particular appears to provide a number of important health benefits.
- Promotes feeling rested: Deep sleep is necessary to waking up feeling refreshed and renewed. This benefit may be related to deep sleep’s role in relieving the pressure to fall asleep, which builds during each waking hour.
- Supports memory consolidation: Researchers believe that during deep sleep the brain recalls new information learned during waking hours and transfers it to long-term memory.
- Heals damaged tissue: Deep sleep promotes the release of human growth hormone, which may support the development of muscle and other tissues in the body. Human growth hormone may also help the body regenerate cells and heal damaged tissue.
- Fortifies the immune system: Hormonal changes during deep sleep enhance the immune system. In particular, these hormonal changes support the body’s ability to develop acquired immunity, remembering and better defending against specific pathogens.
What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Deep Sleep?
Although it can be challenging for researchers to differentiate the effects of losing deep sleep from sleep deprivation in general, studies have found several potential consequences of insufficient deep sleep.
- Sleep inertia: Sleep inertia describes the feeling of grogginess, disorientation, or a reduction in performance that can occur after waking up. People who wake up during deep sleep may experience sleep inertia for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Impared memory: Deep sleep plays an important role in forming long-term memories. Insufficient deep sleep may lead to forgetfulness and poor retention of memories.
- Risk of diabetes: Insufficient deep sleep may increase the risk of diabetes through reducing insulin sensitivity, which describes how well cells are at absorbing blood sugar.
- Hypertension: Blood pressure reaches its lowest point of the day during deep sleep. Losing deep sleep may increase the risk of high blood pressure, a medical condition called hypertension.
- Mood changes: Early research suggests that a reduction in deep sleep may make it harder to maintain a positive mood during the day.
Reduced deep sleep can also contribute to poor overall sleep quality, which in turn can lead to additional symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as:
- Difficulty focusing and staying alert
- Irritability, frequent bad moods, and low energy
- Slowed reaction times
- Memory issues
- Chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, obesity, and depression
- Other issues at work, school, or in social settings
Signs You May Not Be Getting Enough Deep Sleep
Because deep sleep is closely tied to a person’s sleep drive, daytime sleepiness may be a sign of insufficient deep sleep. Daytime sleepiness may cause a person to drift off while riding in the car, watching TV, reading, or after meals.
Other effects of not getting enough deep sleep may mirror those seen in people with sleep deprivation. Everyone responds to a lack of sleep differently, but common signs of sleep deprivation include:
- Difficulty focusing and paying attention
- Trouble learning new things
- Poor decision-making
- Emotional problems
- Difficulty remembering information
Tips for Getting More Deep Sleep
Although there are no guidelines for increasing deep sleep, taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene may improve sleep quality and support adequate deep sleep. Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe healthy habits that may help you get better rest.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Working out might also increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep and improve the quality of deep sleep. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, preferably more than three hours before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided close to bedtime, as they may reduce the amount of time spent in deep sleep.
- Get sunlight exposure during the day: Exposure to light is important for maintaining healthy sleep patterns. Wake up with natural sunlight and lower the lights indoors before bedtime.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule: Going to bed and getting up at the same time, even on weekends, may help you sleep better. Avoid staying up too late, or trying to catch up on lost sleep by sleeping in.
Scientists Discover A Link Between Lack Of Deep Sleep And Alzheimer’s Disease
There’s growing evidence that a lack of deep sleep increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists say that’s because during deep sleep, the brain removes toxins associated with Alzheimer’s.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We continue to learn about the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. NPR’s Jon Hamilton brings us this report done with the NPR science podcast Short Wave.
JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: There’s growing evidence that people who don’t sleep well are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Matthew Walker at the University of California, Berkeley, says that’s no coincidence.
MATTHEW WALKER: We are now learning that there is a significant relationship between sleep and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
HAMILTON: Walker says the strongest evidence involves deep sleep. That’s a time when dreams are rare, body temperature drops and the brain produces slow, rhythmic electrical waves.
WALKER: There is something about this deep sleep that is helping protect you against amyloid buildup in the brain.
HAMILTON: Amyloid or beta amyloid is a substance that forms sticky clumps in the brains of people who are likely to develop Alzheimer’s. So Walker had a question.
WALKER: Can I look into your future and can I accurately estimate how much beta amyloid you’re going to accumulate over the next two years, the next four years, the next six years, simply on the basis of your sleep tonight?
HAMILTON: To find out, Walker and a team studied 32 older adults who had taken part in a sleep study. None had memory problems. The scientists used brain scans to track levels of beta amyloid in each participant for up to six years. And Walker says the results, published early this month in the journal Current Biology, showed people who got less deep sleep had more beta amyloid.
WALKER: We have a specific sleep signature right now that seems to help us better understand where you may sit on the Alzheimer’s disease risk trajectory in the future.
HAMILTON: Scientists also have some ideas about why deep sleep can reduce amyloid. In 2013, a study of mice found that their brains switched on a sort of dishwasher during sleep. Laura Lewis, a biomedical engineer at Boston University, says that appears to clear out waste products.
LAURA LEWIS: So things like amyloid beta, which are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, seem to actually be removed more rapidly from the brain when an animal is asleep versus when they’re awake.
HAMILTON: In 2019, Lewis led a team that showed how this dishwasher works in people.
LEWIS: We realized that there’s these waves of fluid flowing into the brain during sleep.
HAMILTON: What’s more, each wave of fluid was preceded by a large, slow electrical wave. So now scientists are looking for ways to induce the slow waves that signal deep sleep. Lewis says it’s easy in rodents.
LEWIS: There’s a specific deep brain structure that if you stimulate it, you can cause these sleeplike slow waves in the brain.
HAMILTON: There’s some evidence that rhythmic sounds can increase slow waves in people. And researchers at Washington University in St. Louis showed that treating a sleep disorder also helped. Dr. Yo-El Ju was part of a team that studied patients with sleep apnea.
YO-EL JU: They seem to have a change in their ability to clear proteins or, you know, waste products from their brain. And people with obstructive sleep apnea are at higher risk for dementia down the line.
HAMILTON: So Ju’s team looked to see what happened after treatment allowed better sleep. The result – more deep sleep and more beta amyloid cleared from the brain. And Ju says there was another effect – participants’ brains began making less beta amyloid.
JU: So I don’t know whether it’s that sleep increases clearance or whether sleep decreases the production of waste products.
HAMILTON: Either way, Ju says sleep is important to brain health, though on the day we spoke, she hadn’t gotten that much.
JU: My 2-year-old decided to sleep in my bed and eat a tortilla and a banana at 2 in the morning. But usually, I get a pretty good sleep.
HAMILTON: Including plenty of deep sleep.
Jon Hamilton, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
By Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations | November 6, 2018 November 7, 2018
Extreme angst is on the rise nationally and globally, especially among teens and millennials. Among other factors, preliminary findings from UC Berkeley sleep researchers point to a chronic lack of deep restorative sleep.
Investigating the neural link between sleep and anxiety, UC Berkeley neuroscientists Matthew Walker and Eti Ben Simon are finding that non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep plays a key role in calming the overactive brain, especially in the brain regions that process and regulate emotions.
“The more time you spend in deep non-REM sleep, the less anxious you are in the morning,” said Ben Simon in reporting her preliminary findings at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this week in San Diego.
Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), among other measures, Ben Simon and Walker tracked the anxiety levels and brain activity of 18 healthy young adults, first during and after each participant enjoyed a regular night of sleep, and next after the same study participants stayed awake for 24 hours.
Each morning, study participants viewed emotionally evocative video clips while inside a brain scanner so that researchers could observe changes in their emotional brain activity after a night of no sleep.
In the evenings, researchers found nearly identical anxiety levels across all the participants. However, after a night of no sleep, study participants reported a 30 percent increase in anxiety compared to the way they felt after a good night’s sleep.
Moreover, brain scans taken as sleep-deprived participants watched video clips in the morning showed increased activity in such emotion centers as the amygdala “fight-or-flight” reflex, while the medial frontal cortex, which helps temper emotional responses, was virtually shut down.
As for study participants who benefitted from a full night of sleep, those who enjoyed longer periods of non-REM deep sleep reported the lowest levels of anxiety the next morning and showed the least emotional reactivity.
“A good night of deep non-REM sleep can benefit us in terms of anxiety and emotional regulation,” said Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in Walker’s Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley.
One U.S. adult in five is estimated to have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a mental health category that includes panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, and up to 80 percent of anxiety patients complain about poor or disturbed sleep.
Add to that an epidemic in which one U.S. adult in three fails to get the recommended nightly eight hours of sleep, and a connection between sleep and anxiety emerges, Walker points out.
On a positive note, Walker says, “Deep sleep provides a nocturnal soothing balm, taking the sharp edges off our lives and lowering our anxiety. It’s a form of nocturnal therapy that many of us shortchange in this modern era of insufficient sleep.”
Final results of a study by Ben Simon and Walker on the neural link between sleep and anxiety disorders are forthcoming.
Working out is great for your body and mind – and it can also help you get a good night’s sleep. But, for some people, exercising too late in the day can interfere with how well they rest at night.
Based on available studies, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. , medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital. “But there’s still some debate as to what time of day you should exercise. I encourage people to listen to their bodies to see how well they sleep in response to when they work out,” she adds.
How Exercise May Help You Sleep
Researchers don’t completely understand how physical activity improves sleep. “We may never be able to pinpoint the mechanism that explains how the two are related,” she says.
However, we do know that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise can also help to stabilize your mood and decompress the mind, “a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep,” says Gamaldo.
The Timing of Exercise May Matter
Some people may find that exercising close to bedtime seems to keep them up at night, says Gamaldo. How does working out affect the mind?
- Aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins. These chemicals can create a level of activity in the brain that keeps some people awake. These individuals should exercise at least 1 to 2 hours before going to bed, giving endorphin levels time to wash out and “the brain time to wind down,” she says.
- Exercise also raises your core body temperature. “The effect of exercise in some people is like taking a hot shower that wakes you up in the morning,” says Gamaldo. Elevation in core body temperature signals the body clock that it’s time to be awake. After about 30 to 90 minutes, the core body temperature starts to fall. The decline helps to facilitate sleepiness.
Despite these biological responses to exercise, other people find that the time of day they exercise doesn’t make a difference. “Whether it’s in the early morning or close to bedtime, they’ll see a benefit to their sleep,” says Gamaldo.
“Know your body and know yourself,” she says. “Doctors definitely want you to exercise, but when you do it is not scripted.”
How Much Exercise You Need for Better Sleep
Patients often ask Gamaldo how much exercise they need for better sleep, and how many weeks, months or years it will take to experience this benefit.
The good news: People who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night. “It’s generally not going to take months or years to see a benefit,” says Gamaldo. “And patients don’t need to feel like they have to train for the Boston Marathon to become a better sleeper.”
Moreover, while many studies focus on aerobic activity and sleep, Gamaldo says picking an exercise you like will help you stick with it. For example, power lifting or an active yoga class can elevate your heart rate, helping to create the biological processes in the brain and body that contribute to better quality sleep, she says.
“We really want to encourage people to exercise, just be mindful of timing and whether it seems to affect your ability to get optimal sleep quality,” she says.
Research Shows Exercise Decreases Insomnia
Recent research indicates that exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients. The effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to those of sleeping pills. However, more research is needed to compare physical exercise to medical treatments for insomnia.
Can sleep deprivation trigger a seizure?
Yes, it can. Seizures are very sensitive to sleep patterns. Some people have their first and only seizures after an “all-nighter” at college or after not sleeping well for long periods. If you have epilepsy, lack of “good sleep” makes most people more likely to have seizures. It can even increase the intensity and length of seizures. Some forms of epilepsy are especially prone to sleep problems.
Why does sleep deprivation provoke seizures?
Sleep can affect seizures in many different ways. During normal sleep-wake cycles, changes in the brain’s electrical and hormonal activity occur. These changes can be related to why some people have more seizures during sleep than others, and why not getting enough sleep can trigger seizures. Some people’s seizures are tied very closely with their sleep. They may have all of their seizures while sleeping, when falling asleep or waking up. For others, sleep may not be a common trigger, or the association is less clear. For example not getting enough sleep may trigger seizures only when other triggers are going on too.
What causes sleep problems?
Lot of things can affect a person’s sleep and make them more likely to have seizures. Here are a few factors to consider.
- Not getting enough sleep: There’s no magic number of hours of sleep that everyone should get. Some people do well on 5 hours a night, others need 8 to 10 hours or more. In general, at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night is considered good, but the quality of sleep also needs to be considered. If people sleep much less than this most of the time, they are likely sleep deprived and not getting good sleep.
- Not getting ‘good quality’ sleep: Good sleep means feeling rested when you wake up and have energy during the day. Lots of things can prevent you from getting good quality sleep, for example not getting enough sleep, waking up frequently, or having a very restless sleep.
- Having seizures at night: Seizures at night can wake people up or just disrupt their sleep so they aren’t getting a good quality of sleep. Their brains may be missing some of the important sleep cycles. As a result, someone who has lots of seizures at night may have trouble functioning during the day. They may also be chronically sleep deprived and have more seizures during the day too!
- Difficulty falling asleep: Sleep problems can arise from being unable to fall asleep, awakening frequently, or waking up too early. Seizures, moods, and medicine side effects can all cause insomnia.
- Moods: Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of depression and anxiety. If sleep problems last longer than 2 weeks and/or other symptoms of mood problems are present, it’s time to sort this out by seeing your doctor or mental health specialist.
- Poor eating habits: Eating or drinking late at night, eating large amounts before sleep, drinking coffee or other drinks with caffeine, or drinking alcohol in the evening are just a few eating habits that can worsen sleep.
- Side effects of medications: Some seizure medications can make people sleepy. Others can make it harder to fall asleep. The times seizure medications are taken may also make a difference.
- Sleep disorders: Sometimes people can’t sleep because they have a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea, restless legs or other sleep problems. Sleep disorders can leave a person chronically sleep deprived and tired. It’s not unusual to see people with seizures also have sleep disorders.
How can I help improve my sleep?
- Exercise regularly. Look at the type and timing of exercise. Vigorous exercise is usually better earlier in the day.
- Use your bed for sleep and sex, not for activities that will keep you awake.
- Make sure your sleeping environment is quiet and dark.
- Try to keep consistent sleep hours. Keeping a regular wake up time is real helpful.
- Improve sleep habits before bed – look at when you exercise, don’t eat late at night, and turn off your electronics!
- Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Limit alcoholic drinks at night.
- Take a warm shower before bed to help you relax.
- Stop working or doing stimulating activities before you go to bed. Try more relaxing activities instead.
- Consider meditation or a form of relaxing exercises before bedtime.
- If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing or quiet for about 20 to 30 minutes until you get tired. Read something short, like a magazine article, but don’t get engrossed in your favorite book! When you feel tired, go back to bed. If you still can’t sleep, get up after 30 minutes. Eventually your body will learn to sleep when you’re in bed.
- Visit Sleep and Epilepsy for other tips.
Can sleeping pills help with sleep?
If behavioral strategies don’t work, over-the-counter sleeping aids such as melatonin may be relatively safe options. Yet, any sleeping pill (over-the-counter or prescription) should be used only under a doctor’s advice. Don’t take sleeping pills for more than 2 or 3 weeks. Even with short-term use, they must be handled carefully. Stopping certain types of sleeping pills, especially the benzodiazepines such as triazolam (Halcion), clonazepam (Klonopin), and temazepam (Restoril), can trigger seizures in some people.
During a period of big stress, such as loss of a job or a relationship, the careful use of sleeping pills for several nights can help to prevent a seizure caused by sleep deprivation. If you find yourself in this situation, talk to your epilepsy doctor.
But I just can’t sleep without sleeping pills!
If you depend on sleeping pills almost every night, you should talk to your doctor about getting off of them. The doctor probably will try to slowly lower the amount you take. He or she may recommend a non-habit forming type of medicine that helps sleep. Or a medicine to treat the cause of the sleep problems may be suggested.
Do the same “rules” of sleep apply for children?
Children require more sleep than adults. The pediatrician can help you figure out how much sleep your child may need at different ages. They can also help you learn about common sleep problems in children and how to help them sleep better.
If seizures occur in children at night or the child is more tired than usual during the day, talk to the epilepsy doctor. If your child consistently has more seizures when he or she does not sleep enough, you will need to make a special effort to improve sleep habits and avoid things that cause sleep deprivation.
February 28, 2020 By Alex Hirsch
Sleep is one of our basic human needs. Proper sleep is critical to many health aspects including our hormone levels, maintaining a good mood, and even weight management. However, not everyone can achieve good and sound sleep on their own. There are sleep disorders, a group of conditions that impair the ability to sleep well regularly, which negatively affect many people’s sleep. These sleep disorders can impact how you function during the day as well as at night. Whether caused by a health problem, stress, or an unhealthy lifestyle, sleep disorders are significant health issues.
Here are 5 major sleep disorders:
1. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
RLS is a condition that causes your legs to move or shake because of an unpleasant sensation. It usually happens during nighttime when you sleep, which makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep. RLS can occur at any age, although it is commonly observed in adults and gets worse with age.
You probably have had nights when you could not fall asleep, no matter how desperately you tried or how exhausted you are. If this happens to you often, insomnia might be the reason. It is a condition defined as difficulty in falling or staying asleep. There are two classifications of insomnia, acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is short-term and can be caused by jetlag due to international travel or a traumatic experience. Chronic insomnia is long-term and lasts for more than a month.
The following are other causes of insomnia:
- Certain medications
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Nicotine use
- Mental problems, such as depression
- Unpleasant sleeping environments
3. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
REM sleep behavior disorder is a condition in which a person acts their dream out, whether it’s a simple, dramatic, or violent dream. People with RBD lack the state of paralysis we normally experience during the REM phase of our sleep. Thus, allowing them to move their limbs and act out their dreams. REM can cause disturbance to others in the home. It also serves as a danger to the person with the condition, as they can get up and move around without being aware.
4. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea happens when your breathing is interrupted while sleeping, which causes you to wake up suddenly. If you have this condition, you may either be taking pauses while breathing or be releasing shallow breaths. Those who have this condition repeatedly stop breathing during sleep. When left unchecked, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and heart attack. It also reduces your sleep quality.
The following are three types of this condition:
- Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your airway is blocked when the muscles in your throat relax.
- Central sleep apnea works the opposite way. Your airway functions properly, but it is your brain that fails to tell the body to breathe.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Narcolepsy refers to excessive daytime sleepiness or drowsiness that cannot be controlled. People with this condition tend to suffer from sudden attacks of sleep at random moments during the day – even while operating machinery or working. Regardless of the circumstance, people with narcolepsy find it difficult to stay awake, and it can cause disturbances and interruptions in your commitments.
Sleep Disorder Management in Irmo, South Carolina
Sleep is critical to our wellbeing because it helps us relax and recharge for the day ahead. If you are having trouble getting sleep, talk to a doctor today.
At SC Internal Medicine Associates & Rehabilitation, we provide our patients medical care for all types of conditions, including sleep disorders. Our physicians can help you get the good night’s sleep you deserve. To make an appointment, please call us at (803) 749-1111.
While all of the sleep stages are important, REM sleep plays a specific role in processing and storing information, allowing you to retain memories and lock down what you’ve learned during the day. Most of us require between 90 to 110 minutes of REM sleep each night, but it can be an elusive sleep stage to reach sometimes. Why is that? In this article, we’ll explore a few possible scenarios for why REM sleep is escaping you, as well as some tried and true tips to up your minutes in REM sleep, so your mind feels rejuvenated and refreshed in the morning.
Not Getting Enough REM Sleep?
While the exact science of sleep is still somewhat murky, there are studies that suggest a few reasons why you’re not getting enough REM sleep. Time change fatigue is known have an adverse affect on sleep quality. Having a few alcoholic beverages in the evening may be contributing to your lack of REM. Alcohol has been found to both reduce overall REM sleep at night, as well as delay the first REM cycle. Nicotine is another known culprit for suppressing this stage of rest according to a 2009 study.
Not getting regular physical activity could be another reason for interrupted REM sleep, as one study found that the REM cycle was positively affected among subjects who worked out on a consistent basis. There’s also growing evidence that times of stress or depression lead to decreases, disruptions, and delays in REM sleep. The answer is not always clear, but if one of these causes resonates with your own situation, resolving it could be the answer to getting in a solid REM cycle.
Monitor How Much REM Sleep You Are Getting
If you’re not sure how much REM sleep your getting, try tracking your sleep using SleepScore App (it’s free!) You can see how many minutes you were in REM sleep, how you compare to others your age and gender, and more. Download for free app today from the App Store and Google Play Store!
How to Get More REM Sleep
There are a multitude of things you can do to enter all the necessary sleep stages, including REM, every night like finding a light to sleep better or regular exercise. To increase your time in the REM stage, you’ll need to think about your sleep cycle as a whole. These tips will allow you to enter light sleep, deep sleep, and REM stages more easily and consistently, resulting in improved sleep health and a brighter tomorrow.
- Make exercise a daily priority. As research tells us, a single day of exercise likely won’t make a difference in REM sleep, but physical activity on a regular basis can yield improvements. Try adding a 20-minute walk into your day, and slowly increase it to 30 minutes, and then 40. There’s also yoga, swimming, jogging, or any other light to medium physical activity. Just do what you enjoy most! Be sure to plan your workout no later than 3 hours before bedtime. This ensures your body has time to wind down. To find the energy you need to exercise each day requires good sleep. Check out these sleep products tested and scored by sleep experts to help you feel more energy.
- Plan your sleep and wake times. Keeping your sleep schedule intact every day is critical to entering the necessary sleep stages regularly. Try to get to bed at the same time each night, and allow for at least 7 hours to pass before you need to wake up. Over time, your body will acclimate to the schedule, you’ll more easily enter light, deep, and REM stages in full, and you may even find waking up to be easier!
- Find creative outlets for stress. If stress is consuming your life, it can impede your ability to get the rest that you need. Some people like to workout, write in a journal, practice meditation, and gratitude. Others utilize methods like aromatherapy and essential oils to manage stress appropriately.
- Be mindful of your beverage intake. Hydrating during the day will keep your body healthy, and reduce wake ups to use the restroom. And while that second glass of wine is so tempting, maybe think twice about it. We recommend having your last drink at least three hours before bed. A nighttime smoothie is a good healthy alternative that can actually help you fall asleep faster.
No two sleepers are the same. We all have different challenges in life that can negatively influence our nightly rest. You can take proactive steps like these to improve your sleep health. You may find yourself getting the necessary REM sleep your mind needs!
Download the free SleepScore App for insights on how well you sleep, the quality and quantity of your sleep cycles, and sleep improvement progress with science-backed tips and insights. Personalized advice, goals and challenges are available with an optional premium upgrade, but you can try SleepScore Premium for 7 days free (for a limited time).
Most people are aware of the two different types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM. However, what many don’t know is that non-REM sleep actually has four different stages that you pass in and out of through the night. How much time you spend on each of these stages and the stage you wake from can have a big impact on how rested you feel and how much energy you have throughout the day. Here are the five stages of sleep and why they matter.
Stages of Sleep
Stage 1 of non-REM sleep
When you first fall asleep, you enter stage 1 of non-REM sleep. This is characterized by the cessation of muscle movement and the slow movement of the eyes behind the eyelid. This is the “twilight” stage of sleep where you are probably still aware of some of the things going on around you. This is a light stage of sleep and you can usually be woken by noises or other disturbances.
Stage 2 of non-REM sleep
This is the stage where you are actually fully asleep and not aware of your surroundings. During stage 2, the heart rate and breathing regulate, the body temperature goes down, the eye movements either slow or stop completely.
Stage 3 of non-REM sleep
Brain waves slow down in stage 3 with only a few bursts of activity. This is a deep sleep where muscles relax and breathing slows even more. This stage of sleep is difficult to awaken from and you may feel disoriented if an alarm or disturbance pulls you out of it.
Stage 4 of non-REM sleep
Stage 4 is an even deeper sleep where the brain waves further slow and sleepers are very difficult to wake. It’s believed that tissue repair occurs during the stage of sleep and that hormones are also released to help with growth.
Stage 5: REM sleep
The final stage of sleep is REM and this is the cycle where we dream. The eyes move rapidly behind the lids and breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Blood pressure and heart rate also increase during REM sleep and the arms and legs are paralyzed so that sleepers can’t act out their dreams. The purpose of this stage (and of dreams) is thought to stimulate the sections of the brain that are needed for memory and learning and a way for the brain to store and sort information. REM sleep occurs approximately 90 minutes into the sleep cycle.
The length of each cycle changes throughout the night, but the typical sleeper will cycle through the stages several times before waking. For those with sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, the deeper levels of sleep may not be reached as frequently as is normal because they are constantly being woken. This can lead to the body’s inability to repair damage, few dreams, and increased fatigue upon waking and throughout the day.
If you have symptoms such as brain fog, inability to concentrate, the need for naps, irritability, or lack of focus, it could be due to lack of deep sleep. Think obstructive sleep apnea could be the culprit? Request a screening today to find out!
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All sleep is not the same. Deep sleep and REM, for instance, are two different forms of sleep which are often confused with one another. Each of these is a different stage of sleep, have specific characteristics. There are basically five stages of sleep. Deep sleep and REM are stages three and four of the sleep cycle.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the deepest stage of sleep. As the name suggests, the irises of your eyes move rapidly during this stage. It is the fourth stage of sleep. This happens approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. Your heartbeat is faster and irregular during this stage. Your body is largely inactive during this sleep.
REM sleep has intense brain activity. You experience vivid and active dreams. This sleep restores your brain and is good for your memory and learning. You can experience about three to five periods of REM sleep each night and each period lasts about 10 minutes, with the last one going up to an hour.
Stage 3: Deep Sleep
Deep sleep is often confused with REM sleep but there are differences between the two. This third stage of sleep is non-rapid eye movement sleep. Your body can enter this stage about half an hour or 45 minutes after falling asleep.
Unlike REM, deep sleep is associated with changes in the body rather than the brain. Your breathing is slow and heartbeat is regular. Your muscles are relaxed and you sleep through external noises. This form of sleep is very important as the body heals itself during this period – replaces cells, builds muscle tissue, and heals wounds. There are normally no dreams during this sleep. You feel disoriented when you wake up from this sleep. Deep sleep can last between 1-2 hours which is a quarter of your sleep time.
If you want to understand your sleep habits better, you consult one of our sleep specialists in the New York Metro area.
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Everything you want to know about REM sleep.
REM sleep, which means “rapid eye movement sleep,” is one of the 4 stages of sleep (along with light, deep and wake) that your body’s sleep cycles consist of. It is known as the “mentally restorative” stage of sleep when the brain converts short-term memories into long-term ones. Your brain is very active during REM sleep and it is when the most vivid dreams occur.
The Sleep Stages
Something many people don’t realize is that REM sleep and deep sleep (also referred to as slow wave sleep) are very different stages of sleep. Deep sleep is the “physically restorative” stage when muscles repair themselves and cells regenerate. It follows light sleep and precedes REM sleep in a normal sleep cycle, and unlike REM when your heart and respiratory rate speed up, during deep sleep they both slow down.
Why is REM Sleep Important?
REM sleep is the time when new learnings from the day are committed to long-term memory. Beyond the obvious value this has for anyone, it’s significant to athletes from the perspective of technical skills worked on or practiced that day–they are retained during REM sleep, so failing to get the proper amount at night can prevent you from seeing the benefits of your practice that day.
More generally speaking, there’s been research to suggest that when people are deprived of REM sleep they have trouble recollecting things they are taught before falling asleep.
The following physiological changes occur during the REM stage of sleep:
- Eyes move rapidly back and forth behind closed eyelids
- Heart rate and blood pressure rise to levels nearly as high as when you’re awake
- Respiratory rate speeds up and becomes erratic
- Brain consumes more oxygen and its activity increases significantly
- Face and limbs may twitch
Below is a chart representing brain waves measured by an EEG when a person is awake, in REM sleep, and in non-REM sleep:
Brain waves from an EEG are similar when a person is awake and in REM sleep.
Your brain is almost as active in rapid eye movement sleep as when it’s awake, which is why most dreaming happens during this time. As a precautionary measure, part of the brain also sends signals to immobilize your arms and legs in order to prevent you from acting out your dreams (REM sleep behavior disorder). For these reasons, REM sleep is sometimes called paradoxical sleep.
How Much REM Sleep Do You Need?
You first enter REM sleep each usually within 90 minutes of falling asleep, and this period of REM only lasts about 10 minutes. On average you’ll go through 3-5 REM cycles per night, with each episode getting longer as the night progresses. The final one may last roughly an hour.
For healthy adults, spending 20-25% of your time asleep in the REM stage is a good goal. If you get 7-8 hours of sleep, around 90 minutes of that should be REM.
The normal amount of REM sleep also declines with age, beginning with infancy (when it may be greater than 50% of total sleep time) and extending all the way through adulthood.
Effects of Lack of REM Sleep
As mentioned above, not getting enough REM sleep can negatively impact your brain’s ability to learn and create new memories.
Additionally, because the majority of your REM sleep tends to come towards the end of your night in bed (and after deep sleep, which your brain and body prioritize when you need to catch up on sleep), a lack of REM is often a sign of sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to greater risk of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
There has also been research to show that insufficient REM sleep may cause migraines, and some medical conditions (sleep apnea for example) can have adverse effects on it.
How to Get More REM Sleep
Overall, whatever you can do to improve your sleep habits and behaviors will also help you get more REM sleep. This begins with simply making an effort to spend more time in bed. Here are 45 tips to help you sleep better.
There are also two other things in particular that stand out with how to increase REM sleep. The first is a concept we refer to as sleep consistency–going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (or a sleep schedule as close to that as possible). Your body functions more efficiently when it is on a regular schedule, and this applies to sleep as well. We ran an analysis of sleep data from 25,000 WHOOP members, and the results showed a significant rise in the nightly amount of REM sleep as the percentage of sleep consistency over a 4-day span increased:
Better sleep consistency allows for more REM sleep.
The second big thing is to stay away from alcohol before bed. When your body is forced to process alcohol during sleep, it has difficulty getting past light sleep and into the deeper stages.
WHOOP TRacks How Much REM Sleep You’re Getting
With WHOOP, you can monitor your night’s sleep in detail and learn exactly how much time you spend in each stage of sleep. The app also features a Sleep Coach that uses your own circadian rhythm to recommend daily bed and wake times to optimize the quality of your sleep.
WHOOP will let you know how much REM sleep you’re getting and help give you a better understanding of what you can do to get more of it.
The WHOOP app displays how much time you spend in REM sleep each night.
Missing sleep tonight may just boost your dreams tomorrow night.
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About three years ago Eva Salem got into some trouble with a crocodile. It snapped her hand in its jaws. In a panic, she managed to knock out the crocodile and free herself. Then, she woke up.
“I imagine that’s what it’s like when you’re on heroin. That’s what my dreams were like—vivid, crazy and active,” she says. Salem, a new mother, had been breast-feeding her daughter for five months before the croc-attack dream, living on four hours of sleep a night. If she did sleep a full night, her dreams boomeranged, becoming so vivid that she felt like she wasn’t sleeping at all.
Dreams are amazingly persistent. Miss a few from lack of sleep and the brain keeps score, forcing payback soon after eyelids close. “Nature’s soft nurse,” as Shakespeare called sleep, isn’t so soft after all.
“When someone is sleep deprived we see greater sleep intensity, meaning greater brain activity during sleep; dreaming is definitely increased and likely more vivid,” says neurologist Mark Mahowald of the University of Minnesota and director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis.
The phenomenon is called REM rebound. REM refers to “rapid eye movement,” the darting of the eyes under closed lids. In this state we dream the most and our brain activity eerily resembles that of waking life. Yet, at the same time, our muscles go slack and we lie paralyzed—a toe might wiggle, but essentially we can’t move, as if our brain is protecting our bodies from acting out the stories we dream.
Sleep is divided into REM and four stages of non-REM; each has a distinct brain wave frequency. Stage one of non-REM is the nodding off period where one is between sleeping and waking; it’s sometimes punctuated with a sensation of falling into a hole. In stage two the brain slows with only a few bursts of activity. Then the brain practically shuts off in stages three and four and shifts into slow-wave sleep, where heart and breathing rates drop dramatically.
Only after 70 minutes of non-REM sleep do we experience our first period of REM, and it lasts only five minutes. A total non-REM–REM cycle is 90 minutes; this pattern repeats about five times over the course of a night. As the night progresses, however, non-REM stages shorten and the REM periods grow, giving us a 40-minute dreamscape just before waking.
The only way scientists can study REM deprivation is by torturous sleep deprivation. “We follow the [electroencephalogram] tracing and then when we see [subjects] moving into REM, we wake them up,” says psychologist Tore Nielsen, director of the Dream and Nightmare Lab at the Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal. “As soon as you start to rob them of REM, the pressure for them to go back into REM starts to build.” Sometimes Nielsen will have to wake them 40 times in one night because they go directly into REM as soon as they are asleep.
Of course there is non-REM rebound as well, but the brain gives priority to the slow-wave sleep and then to REM, suggesting that the states are independent of each other.
In a 2005 study published in Sleep, Nielsen showed that losing 30 minutes of REM one night can lead to a 35 percent REM increase the next night—subjects jumped from 74 minutes of REM to a rebound of 100 minutes.
Nielsen also found that dream intensity increased with REM deprivation. Subjects who were only getting about 25 minutes of REM sleep rated the quality of their dreams between nine and eight on a nine-point scale (one being dull, nine being dynamite).
Of course, REM deprivation, and the subsequent rebound, is common outside the lab. Alcohol and nicotine both repress REM. And blood pressure drugs as well as antidepressants are also well known REM suppressants. (Take away the dreams and, curiously, the depression lifts.) When patients stop the meds, and the vices, they’re rewarded with a scary rebound.
But the persistence of REM begs the question: Why is it so insistent? When rats are robbed of REM for four weeks they die (although the cause of death remains unknown). Amazingly, even though we spend about 27 years dreaming over the course of an average life, scientists still can’t agree on why it’s important.
Psychiatrist Jerry Siegel, head of the Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently proved that REM is nonexistent in some big-brained mammals, such as dolphins and whales. “Dying from lack of REM is totally bogus,” Siegel says. “It’s never been shown in any species other than a rat.”
Some theories suggest that REM helps regulate body temperature and neurotransmitter levels. And there is also evidence that dreaming helps us assimilate memories. Fetuses and babies spend 75 percent of their sleeping time in REM. Then again, platypuses experience more REM than any other animal and researchers wonder why, because, as Minnesota’s Mahowald puts it, “Platypuses are stupid. What do they have to consolidate?”
But, given that rats run through dream mazes that precisely match their lab mazes, others feel that there must be some purpose or meaningful information in dreams.
John Antrobus, a retired professor of psychology and sleep research at the City College of New York says that dream content is tied to our anxieties. But he never found the extreme vividness in REM rebound that others assume is there, based on a higher level of brain activity which likely means more action-packed dreams.
“The brain is an interpretive organ, and when regions are less connected as they are in sleep, we get bizarre narratives,” he says. “But its purpose? For that we have to ask what is the purpose of thought. We can’t answer one without answering the other.”