Deep sleep is an important time for the immune system, repair of tissues, muscle growth, hormone and metabolism regulation, and clearance of toxic brain waste via the glymphatic system. It’s no wonder that everyone wants more of this restorative stage of sleep.

And good news – there are several ways that you can naturally increase your time spent in deep sleep, without having to resort to counting sheep every night. Here are 10 all-natural, science-backed and actionable steps to achieve restful slumber.

1. Embrace the Power of Consistency

  1. Why? Your body loves routine just as much as it loves quality sleep. By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends), you're training your circadian rhythm (aka your internal body clock) to support healthier sleep cycles, including more time in deep sleep. Sleep regularity has also been shown to improve longevity.
  2. How? Set a consistent rise time across seven days a week (consider using an alarm to help this stick!) and count backwards from your rise time the number of hours that you sleep on average (and then, add 30 minutes to this number). This should give you an idea of your ideal bedtime and optimal sleep schedule.

2. Brighten Your Days

  1. Why? Morning sunlight has been shown to be beneficial for improving overall sleep quality, and it’s even better if you can get it at the same time everyday. Melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating the timing of sleep and wake, is like the conductor of your sleep cycle orchestra. To ensure it leads your sleep symphony to a crescendo of deep sleep, it’s optimal to get an adequate amount of sunlight upon waking each morning.
  2. How? Aim to get natural light exposure within the first hour after you wake up, which helps to set or “anchor” your circadian rhythm for the day. This also helps to communicate to your brain what time you should be feeling sleepy for the next night of sleep.

3. Listen to Your Sleepy Cues

  1. Why? Ensuring that you feel sleepy when you get into bed (as opposed to feeling tired or fatigued) helps strengthen your deep sleep drive.
  2. How? Keep a consistent wake up time every morning, no matter what time you eventually fall asleep or how well you sleep. This helps you build up your sleep pressure or deep sleep drive, which makes it more likely to experience the restorative benefits of deep sleep. Try not to get into bed unless you’re feeling sleepy (i.e., you can fall asleep in less than 15 to 20 minutes, give or take). This ensures that when you get into bed, you're actually ready to fall asleep, which tells your body that you’re listening to your sleepy cues and strengthens your bed-sleep connection.

4. Move Your Body

  1. Why? Regular exercise is like a love letter to deep sleep. Not only does it improve the quality and duration of sleep, but engaging in strength training and moderate aerobic activity can increase the amount of restorative deep sleep you get. Just remember, timing is everything – try to finish your workout at least a few hours before bedtime to ensure your body has time to cool off and wind-down.
  2. How? Aim for a daily dose of physical activity, whether it's a walk in the park, a spin class, or lifting weights at the gym, to increase your deep sleep drive.

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5. Eat for Quality Sleep

  1. Why? Foods high in magnesium, melatonin, and tryptophan, like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and poultry, can promote deeper sleep. Heavy or large meals too close to bedtime can lead to discomfort and poor quality sleep.
  2. How? Keep your meal times consistent throughout the day, with your first meal ideally within the first hour after you wake up, and your last meal ideally 3 hours before bedtime. Aim for a nutrient-rich diet consisting of healthy fat, fiber, and protein, and consider dinner your lightest meal.

6. Embrace the Darkness

  1. Why? Too much artificial blue light exposure after sunset and before bed may suppress your body’s natural production of melatonin, which gets released in response to darkness or dim light.
  2. How? Limit exposure to bright lights and screens at least an hour before bed to help boost melatonin levels and encourage deeper sleep. Consider a digital detox, as the blue light emitted by screens is the modern-day sleep curse, tricking your brain into thinking it's still daytime. Block out as much light in your bedroom as possible too. Consider using a sleep mask or blackout curtains in your bedroom to create an ambiance that supports deep, restorative sleep.

7. Drop Your Thermostat

  1. Why? Your core body temperature, which is regulated by your circadian rhythm, naturally ebbs and flows over the course of the day, before bed, and while you sleep. Generally, a higher core body temperature signals that it’s time to wake up or be alert, and a lower core body temperature signals that it’s time for sleep or rest. Sending your body the right signals by keeping it cool before bedtime and during the night is important for achieving good quality sleep. When you’re able to keep things cool, your body is better able to regulate its temperature during the night (e.g., leading to less disruption or less wake-ups during the night).
  2. How? Your body temperature needs to drop a few degrees in order to easily transition to sleep, so having sheets and blankets that are made of breathable materials (e.g., cotton, linen, silk, bamboo), which promote cooler temperatures is optimal and can help assist with your body’s natural temperature regulation process. Drop your bedroom thermostat a couple degrees cooler than the rest of your living space, and consider a cooling mattress topper or frozen cool pack under your pillow and/or feet.

8. Limit Substances

  1. Why? While a glass of wine might seem like a shortcut to dreamland, alcohol actually reduces the quality of your sleep, particularly diminishing the amount of deep sleep you get. Caffeine, on the other hand, is a stimulant, so enjoy your coffee fix in the morning to ensure it's out of your system by bedtime.
  2. How? Avoid excess caffeine too late in the day and limit other substances like alcohol and nicotine at least a few hours before bedtime.

9. Unwind Before Bed

  1. Why? Engaging in a calming pre-sleep routine tells your brain it's time to switch from "do" mode to "sleep" mode, paving the way for deeper sleep.
  2. How? Create a calming wind-down routine or "buffer zone” that helps you unwind before bed. Whether it's a warm bath, listening to music, practicing a guided breathing exercise with Oxa, or reading a good book, make it a nightly habit, ideally starting about an hour before your bedtime.

10. Breathe for Deep Sleep

  1. Why? Breathwork has been shown to reduce overall stress levels, calm the mind, and prepare the body for a night of profound rest. Breathing through the diaphragm muscle, or practicing diaphragmatic “belly” breathing, has been shown to activate the “vagus nerve,” which is what helps to change the “fight or flight” stress response into more of a “rest and digest” relaxation response.
  2. How? Pick a few breathing exercises (e.g., Boxed Breathing or 4-7-8) that feel comfortable for you and that you will enjoy practicing during the day to promote restful sleep. Make it easy with the Oxa breathing trainer as your guide; practice resonance or coherence breathing, starting with a few minutes each day, which can help activate the body’s natural relaxation response and set the stage for deep sleep to easily unfold.

While deep sleep is the ticket to waking up and feeling like a million bucks, striking a balance between all stages of sleep are important for achieving quality sleep on a regular basis. Quality sleep is achieved and maintained through consistent healthy lifestyle habits, which are the foundations for living a life filled with energy and zest.

By incorporating these steps into your daily routine, you're not just investing in more deep sleep; you're setting the stage for healthier, more vibrant days. Remember, deep sleep is when your body repairs and rejuvenates, so by prioritizing your sleep needs through your daily habits, you're prioritizing your overall well-being for many years to come. Sweet dreams!

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Deep Sleep FAQs

What is deep sleep?

Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, typically occurs within an hour or so of falling asleep. Deep sleep usually happens during the first half of the night, and you experience shorter cycles of deep sleep as the night progresses. During this stage, vital body functions like breathing, heart rate, and temperature decrease and slow down. It is difficult to wake up from deep sleep, as your muscles are relaxed.

Why is deep sleep important?

All stages of sleep are important and necessary for optimal health, but deep sleep offers specific physical benefits. During deep sleep, the body releases growth hormone, which works to build, repair, and/or strengthen muscles, bones, tissues, and immune function. Deep sleep is also thought to play a role in hormone regulation and weight management.

How do you get more deep sleep?

While you can’t force your way to deeper sleep, you can increase the chances of experiencing more time in slow-wave sleep by practicing healthy sleep and lifestyle habits. These may include; maintaining a consistent sleep schedule across seven days, establishing a regular wind-down routine to prepare your mind and body for sleep (which could include a regular breathwork practice with Oxa), getting an adequate amount of sunlight exposure during the day, minimizing or blocking artificial blue light after sunset, exercising regularly, and avoiding substances (e.g., caffeine, alcohol) too close to bedtime.

How much deep sleep is needed per night?

Most adults spend 20-25% of the night in deep sleep. This is approximately 1.5-2 hours of total time in deep sleep.

Is deep sleep the same as REM sleep?

Deep sleep and REM sleep are not the same stage. Deep sleep represents the deepest stage of the sleep cycle, when brain activity is slowest. REM or rapid-eye-movement sleep is typically when dreaming occurs during the night (although dreams can occur in any stage). While REM is also considered a restorative stage of sleep, the brain activity during REM is most similar to that of being awake. REM is unique from other sleep stages because your muscles are paralyzed to prevent the acting out of dreams.

How much deep sleep do you need based on age?

Deep sleep needs vary across the lifespan, with babies, kids, and teenagers needing more deep sleep overall. Age plays a big role in your sleep needs, and generally less time is spent in deep sleep as adults (compared to kids/teens), and even less time is necessary after age 65. Many factors like poor sleep habits, health conditions, and high stress can affect the total duration of deep sleep.

Dr. Sarah Silverman
May 28, 2024

PsyD, a holistic sleep specialist and insomnia expert, is revolutionizing the way we approach sleep health. With an impressive academic background from the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University, coupled with specialized training at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, Dr. Silverman brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her practice. Her commitment to enhancing sleep wellness and her holistic, evidence-based strategies have made her a beacon of hope for those struggling to find restorative sleep, embodying her belief that everyone deserves to feel well-rested every day.

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