Deep Sleep: Why It Matters
What is deep sleep?
Deep sleep is a period of sleep when your brain waves are at their lowest frequency. This is when it is hardest to wake you up. Usually people get spurts of it within the first couple hours of the night. Some with genetic mutations are able to get more deep sleep, but studies are showing that around 20% of deep sleep for adults is optimal. This equates to around 1.5 hours a night or more. You can track deep sleep through tracking devices such as an Oura ring, Fitbit, Whoop, and other brands. You may be able to tell if you’re not getting enough deep sleep if you’re waking up a lot early on in the night, not feeling rested in the mornings, even with 8+ hours of consistent sleep every night.
Why is it important?
This is where our body’s are most restorative. Human Growth Hormone is produced, and regenerative mechanisms are activated. As an athlete, you need deep sleep so your body can repair and build muscle tissue. This period is also when your brain detoxes. Your brain accumulates waste, and if it’s not disposed of, you can be predisposed to Alzhiemer’s disease. DNA and Chromosome damage is repaired most during deep sleep too. So if you’re looking to improve your performance, detox pathways, your future health, and just feel overall more rested and energized, you may want to pay attention to your levels of deep sleep.
How do you increase Deep Sleep?
A huge factor in increasing deep sleep is to get your body to the right core temperature - this releases melatonin in your body as a part of your circadian rhythm. You can affect this by ensuring your room is at a lower temp (60-67 degrees fahrenheit), but sometimes your body still heats up for various reasons. Here are some other ways to cool down and get to the right temperature:
Leave more room between eating and going to bed. When you eat, your body stays more warm since it is working to digest. If you eat close to bedtime, your body will be warmer and it’s harder to get into a deep sleep.
Cold showers or ice baths. Try taking some form of a cold shower at night before you hop into bed. One method you can try is 5-10 rounds of 20 seconds cold, 10 seconds warm. Or, just simply end your shower with colder water, for as long as you can stand it.
Use a Chilipad or cooling blankets/pillows.
Avoid working out or using a sauna too close to bedtime, allow at least 90 minutes for your body to cool back down.
Also be careful you’re not too cold. Wearing socks (or even a hat when camping in cooler temps, for example) can help your body focus on getting your core to the right temperature.
There are many other things we can do to increase our deep sleep. And some work better for others. It’s all about finding what works for you. Consider each of these, and try tweaking your bedtime routine by adjusting just one or a few of these to see if it helps you:
Go to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends - a routine helps your body be more consistent with its circadian rhythm .
Block blue light 3 hours before bedtime by: using blackout curtains, wearing blue light blocking glasses, putting electrical tape on electronics, and turning down the lights when the sun goes down.
Get enough blue spectrum light (the sun is the best option) immediately after waking up and throughout the day (during normal daylight hours). Try going on a walk or stepping outside into the sun shortly after waking up.
Reduce EMF exposure - turn your electronics on airplane mode when possible, place routers further away from bedroom, walk barefoot when possible, and other next level things like sleeping on a grounding mat.
Improve air quality - Ensure your room is ventilated, open a window, and/or get more house plants (like a snake or spider plant) to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Get consistent exercise - varying types of exercise is best, but ensuring you’re getting some kind of resistance/strength training will really help trigger more deep sleep. Your body needs to repair tissue after some sprints or heavy lifting, and in order to repair those muscles, it needs deep sleep. So your body will likely try to get more deep sleep after having a tough aerobic workout.
Find ways to de-stress before bedtime. Whether it’s through meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, or whatever works for you, calming the mind is key.
This is a more obvious one, but similar to food, avoid alcohol or caffeine too close to bed. Ideally allow at least 90 minutes from your last drink of alcohol before going to bed.
If you’re a night shift worker, then you will likely have to prioritize your sleep habits to see what can help you best. Blue light blocking glasses before bed, black out curtains, a white noise machine, a normal eating schedule, and some melatonin or valerian root can be helpful supplements, on occasion, to help get your body into a routine.
If you want to learn more...I have learned a lot about deep sleep through Ben Greenfield’s podcast (Ben Greenfield Fitness) and website, Oura Ring’s website/app and their founder’s discussions on Chris Kresser’s podcast (Revolution Health Radio), Robb Wolf’s Podcast (The Paleo Solution Podcast), and episodes on the Bulletproof Podcast.