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Deep Sleep: What It Is and Why You Need More of It

Beauty sleep isn’t just an expression! Getting a sufficient amount of good quality sleep is essential – for your physical health, cognitive functioning, appearance, and overall wellness.

And when you know how, when, and why to get restorative deep sleep – that is a beautiful thing.

What is Deep Sleep?

There’s a real science behind sleep, consisting of defined stages with distinct qualities. Though you can probably guess that ‘light sleep’ won’t cut it when it comes to recharging, did you know that brain functioning actually changes during deep sleep?

Sleep is made up of cycles and stages, each of which is important. During deep sleep (the third stage of the sleep cycle), brain waves are at their slowest – with a frequency of less than 1 Hz. These slower, lengthened waves are called delta waves. Because of the slower frequency of the waves, deep sleep is also referred to as slow-wave sleep.

Why is Deep Sleep Important?

Because the frequency of brain waves is at its slowest, deep sleep is incredibly good for the brain – and thus, the body and mind. In fact, neurons in the neocortex are silent during deep sleep, meaning the brain is actually able to rest and reset. But why does that matter?

Studies suggest that the formation of memories is strongly influenced by the interaction between the hippocampus and neocortical networks. Thus, when neurons in the neocortical networks are able to rest (one of the functions of deep sleep), memory formation and consolidation are strengthened.

Another reason deep sleep is important is its relationship with growth hormone secretion and glucose metabolism regulation. Growth hormone is naturally released during deep sleep, contributing to muscle relaxation and repair, as well as bone, tissue and immune system functioning.

You can think of slow-wave sleep as a reset or reboot. Deep sleep is the body’s way of taking a deep breath, checking itself, and restoring energy where it’s needed most so that you can spring back into action – fully refreshed.

Why You’re Not Getting Enough – And What to Do About It!

People experience disrupted sleep patterns for all sorts of reasons, and a lack of sufficient deep sleep is more common than you’d think.  (Perhaps you are victim to the most common sleep mistakes?!)

Though most adults only need between 1-2 hours of cumulative deep sleep a night, 1-2 hours of total sleep won’t cut it. Why? Because sleep happens in stages and cycles, which means you’re only getting a few minutes of deep sleep each cycle. You’ve got to pass stages 1 and 2 before reaching the coveted slow-wave sleep stage.

Experts recommend aiming for an average of 7 hours of sleep each night, from start to finish, and with as few interruptions as possible. A few basic steps you can take are to adopt a healthy bedtime routine, eliminate drinks an hour before (so your bladder doesn’t wake you up), and avoid blue light from screens like smartphones. Lowering the thermostat can also help your body reach an ideal sleep temperature.

In addition, diet and exercise can play a role in getting adequate deep sleep. Experts recommend regular aerobic exercise and a diet that is low in carbs, as both of these factors can help the body stick to natural circadian rhythms and put you in the best position to get those slow-wave Z’s.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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