June 16, 2024

The health benefits of a truly deep sleep

In the second part of the night, you get more REM sleep which is more similar to wakefulness than other stages. “REM sleep is an active time for the brain, and great for innovation, creativity and emotional regulation,” says Bostock. Each cycle repeats every 90 minutes.

“People often assume they should go through these stages and not wake up in between,” says Bostock. “But our ancestors evolved to be able to wake up in between sleep stages, check everything is okay and go back to sleep again. If we’re in a familiar environment then we might not even notice but the older we get the more time we spend awake during sleep. So don’t get too stressed if you wake up.”

The sleep scientist weighs in

First, I needed to stop freaking out over my tracker and take more note of how I feel, Bostock advised. She would be my deep sleep coach for a few weeks during the experiment. 

Research studies comparing various trackers shows they range from 50-60 per cent accurate for comparing sleep stages. They’re better than nothing but getting too obsessed about your sleep is one of the worst things to make insomnia worse, there’s even a name for it: orthosomnia.  

I took Bostock’s advice and put it to the test to see if it improved my deep sleep. As well as my tracker then, I would use a simple sheet of paper to record how I felt every day.

“You have quite rigid beliefs around sleep like, ‘I need nine hours to feel great’,’’ she says. “I want you to challenge these and see if you feel alright with less sleep the next day. 

“You’re getting 6-17 per cent deep sleep right now. But anything from 15-25 per cent deep sleep as an adult is actually pretty normal,” she adds. “So you’re not failing, but there are certain things you can do to try and increase that.”

My deep sleep experiment 

“If light sleep wasn’t useful you wouldn’t spend half of your night in stage 2 sleep,” says Bostock. “Light sleep is still having an impact on your health. But it’s possible to do small things to impact the amount of deep sleep you get, though the changes will be subtle, small and probably slow but every bit counts,” says Bostock. “If we can try and get you a little bit more deep sleep each night, over time that will impact how you feel.” 

Sleep hygiene advice tells us to sleep in a dark room, drink herbal tea before bed, have a hot bath and if we wake up in the middle of the night, get up and do something else, like the ironing, until we feel tired. I had read advice like that so many times, it seemed more tired than I was. I hate ironing. So Bostock and I decided on making five key changes that she felt would be most impactful for my deep sleep but that I felt were easy enough that I’d actually do them.  

What the numbers said

The results were a surprise as I slept a little less but my deep sleep improved by 2 per cent. I also felt much better. 

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