Deep sleep is essential for our mental and physical health — are you getting enough? Read on to discover how to sleep better.
by Carolyn Meers
Make no mistake, sleep is the body’s superpower.
Brush aside the cartoony images of jumping sheep — good sleep is a mental game changer and a health necessity, and consistent nights of deep sleep help balance the brain’s response to daily stressors.
So, are you getting enough quality sleep sessions? Here, we’ll discuss why getting some good shut-eye is essential to your health and simple ways you can improve the quality of your deep sleep — tonight.
What is Deep Sleep?
Not all sleep is equal. But each phase has a purpose.
To start, there are two general categories: rapid eye movement (or REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Each produces varying levels of brain activity and each night you typically cycle through a few rounds of REM and non-REM slumber. A good night of sleep will encompass both REM and non-REM sleep.
Non-REM sleep encompasses three stages, outlined below.
- Stage 1-Falling Asleep: In this early stage of light sleep, the body begins to relax. Muscles may twitch as brain waves slow and shift away from wakefulness. Stage 1 typically lasts just a few minutes.
- Stage 2-Almost Fully Asleep: This second stage of non-REM sleep is the precursor to the real deal deep sleep. During this phase, your heart rate and breathing slows, and your body temp begins to drop. Brain wave activity also slows. We spend the most time in this sleep cycle.
- Stage 3-Deep Sleep: This stage is where the true neurological replenishing happens. It usually occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. During this stage of sleep, your heartbeat, breathing and brain waves slow to their lowest levels and it may be difficult to rouse you.
How Does Deep Sleep Impact Our Health?
Recent studies, including one from the University of California Berkeley, have found that deep sleep (specifically, deep non-REM sleep) can serve as a “natural, non-pharmaceutical remedy for anxiety disorders,” which afflict 40 million American adults. According to the study’s lead author, Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, a night of deep sleep “restored the brain's prefrontal mechanism that regulates our emotions, lowering emotional and physiological reactivity and preventing the escalation of anxiety.”
During stage 3 of deep non-REM sleep, our brains and bodies handle some particularly important business.
- Deep Clean: According to a recent Boston University study, during deep non-REM sleep cerebrospinal fluid flushes through the brain and helps with memory consolidation (this is when new memories are logged into long-term storage). This moment is crucial for us all, especially when we are learning new skills through a daytime course … or just trying to remember what your friend said about their weekend plans.
- Muscle Growth and Repair: During deep non-REM sleep the pituitary gland produces human growth hormone, which helps the body repair tissues damaged from exercise and heal a range of injuries.
- Mood Regulation- Research has found that sleep deprivation can contribute to feeling increased levels of irritability and emotional volatility. Additionally, sleep loss has been shown to “amplify negative emotional consequences of disruptive daytime experiences.”
Tips for Getting Deeper Sleep, Naturally
Many struggle to wind down and achieve deep sleep — or even light sleep — each night. An Iowa State University study reported that as many as five million Americans are experiencing consistent sleep challenges. Luckily, there are simple strategies that can help you wind down and get the sleep your body needs.
Set Your (Sleeping) Stage
Designate your bed (and your whole bedroom, if you can) to just sleeping. Have you been working from home and answering emails from your laptop in the early morning or late at night? Shut it down and commit to doing your work in another space — like the kitchen table or even a separate office if you have the space.
Scrolling through your phone’s Insta feed when all the lights are off? Sign off. Not only is this activity stalling your sleep process but the blue light from your phone (and your laptop, too) restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding intense screen use at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Beds are for sleeping, and the goal of nixing these habits is to train your brain to see your bed and your bedroom as a space to power down and relax.
Clean Up Your Evening Routine
Curb the late-night cocktails. While alcohol acts as a sedative, it actually blocks REM sleep, essential for brain function and memory consolidation. The body cannot enter REM sleep until the alcohol is eliminated from its system — and that process can take a few hours. So, sip your last drink 3 to 4 hours before bedtime and consider replacing that nightcap with relaxation-promoting CBD tinctures with essential oils or herbal teas.
Aim to finish eating three hours before bedtime. This gives the body time to digest and prepare for sleep. (Plus, trying to sleep on a very full stomach can be quite uncomfortable, and even ignite heartburn.) If you’re feeling peckish in the evenings, consider having a few slices of banana or handfuls of walnuts or almonds — all are rich in sleep-enhancing magnesium.
Essential Oils for Sleep
Adding the right herbs and essential oils to your nighttime routine can also help improve your sleep. Among the most trusted sleep-enhancing herbs are valerian root, lavender, chamomile and sweet fennel. There are a few ways to tap into the benefits of these herbs when you’re ready to turn in:
- Teas that include one or a few of these herbs can be brewed and sipped before bedtime. This soothing nighttime ritual can also promote relaxation and get you mentally primed for sleep.
- Tinctures, like those made by The Root of it All, can be taken sublingually to feel the impact of these essential oils (amplified by CBD) as quickly as possible. The STOP tincture includes valerian root, lavender and chamomile, plus a soothing dose of CBD, while the SLOW essential oil is fortified with muscle-calming sweet fennel.
- A candle or room or pillow spray infused with lavender, chamomile or valerian root essential oils can provide calming aromatherapy benefits.
Now that you’re armed with a bevy of fresh tips to achieve a deeper sleep naturally, the only thing left to do is hit the hay. Happy snoozing.
Carolyn Meers is an editor and copywriter based in Los Angeles. She has more than a decade of experience in the luxury lifestyle realm—specializing in health and wellness and home design—and has contributed to publications including CSQ, C Magazine, Robb Report, 805 Living and The Knot.