I’m a sleep expert – here's is how to get more DEEP sleep every night | The Sun

IF you wake up without feeling refreshed or constantly have your sleep disrupted during the night, it's likely you're missing out on deep sleep.

And losing out on deep sleep can be a health disaster for your mind and body.

So what's so great about deep sleep? Here's how much you really need, and how to improve yours in a few simple steps…

What is deep sleep?

Deep sleep makes up just one of the various sleep stages. 

"Sleep is separated into two different types of sleep: REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) or 'dreaming sleep' and non-REM sleep. 

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“Non-REM sleep is further categorised into four different stages and it is stages three and four of this non-REM sleep which is referred to as 'deep sleep'," explains Dr Maja Schaedel, clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Good Sleep Clinic. 

"It is characterised by ultra slow brainwaves with a large amplitude. 

“We have the majority of our deep sleep in the first half of the night, saving most of our REM sleep for the second half of the night."

It's also the part of sleep that makes you feel well-rested.

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So if you're waking up feeling sluggish, or crashing out mid-morning, it's likely that you aren't getting enough.

How much deep sleep do you need?

As with the other stages of sleep, we require multiple cycles of deep sleep per night. 

"When we go into deep sleep our brainwave pattern starts to slow down, our heart rate drops and muscle tone drops significantly," says Dr Schaedel. 

"We stay here for 20-30 minutes before going back into REM sleep. 

“This process makes up one 'sleep cycle' and typically lasts about 90 minutes. 

“We hope to have around five of these sleep cycles each night."

The amount of deep sleep you need varies depending on your age: children need a lot, while as we get older, we require less. 

"For a young adult, around 25-27 per cent of the night should be spent in deep sleep, which is roughly one-and-a-half to two hours," says sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, author of How To Sleep Well.

Why is deep sleep so important?

Deep sleep is a critical time for your mind and body. 

"It's when we lay down new memories but also when we make connections between new and pre-existing information," says Dr Stanley. 

"It's when we rehearse tasks, so if you practise something before bed, you can get better at it while you sleep. 

“When we're young it's the time when we physically grow, which is why it's important for children. 

“It's also a time for the immune system to produce the T-cells that attack viruses – which is why you're four times more likely to catch a cold after a bad sleep."

There's also a connection between brain function and deep sleep.

"It's when our brains are 'washed', taking out neurotoxins that build up," says Dr Stanley. 

"This has been implicated in the development of dementia but we're not certain which way it works: whether your likelihood of dementia is increased by a lack of deep sleep, or whether a lack of deep sleep could be a signal of dementia."

How accurate are sleep trackers at logging sleep?

Waking up and analysing your fitness tracker to chart your sleep stages isn't the best idea, according to the experts. 

"They can't be relied on," says Dr Stanley. 

"They can measure the time it takes you to fall asleep, and how long you slept for, but they cannot measure light, deep and REM sleep. 

“And it's causing people to worry unnecessarily, particular because of the possible connection to dementia." 

And, as we all know, worrying is never conducive to a good night's shut-eye!

How can I get more deep sleep?

In some ways it's hard to target a particular sleep stage for improvement, as they are all connected in natural cycles that your body is designed to work through. 

And the good news is that your body will always try to prioritise deep sleep, particularly following a bad night.

That said, there are ways to guard your deep sleep time:

1. Protect your first three hours

As deep sleep tends to happen at the start of the night, your first three or so hours of bedtime become even more crucial. 

Make sure you pee before bed (or see your GP about possible medication if you're often up in the night to use the loo), and try to attend to any aches and pains.

Take some painkillers or massage to stop twinges and sore muscles waking you up. 

"If you have a baby or young child who's likely to wake and you have a partner, you might want to swap nights so each of you can make up your deep sleep on alternate nights," suggests Dr Stanley.

2. Go to bed together

One way to protect those important first hours is to make sure your partner isn't waking you up by coming to bed later. 

Consider going to bed at the same time or even considering separate beds for a while if your sleep is being constantly interrupted.

3. Cut back on caffeine

It's notorious for keeping people up late, but caffeine is particularly disastrous when it comes to deep sleep. 

"One study showed that 200mg of caffeine before bed resulted in a 20 per cent reduction in deep sleep. 

“This is the same drop in deep sleep that you would expect if you were to age 20 or 30 years, as the older we get, the less deep sleep we get," says Dr Schaedel. 

That said, it doesn't mean giving up your daily coffee entirely.

"Generally I say to people not to have caffeine after lunch, as caffeine has a really long half-life of six hours.

"Which means that if you drink a cup of coffee after lunch at 1pm, you will still have a quarter of the caffeine in your system at 1am."

4. Experiment with your wake up time

"The most effective change if you often feel groggy is to fix your wake-up time," says Dr Stanley. 

"Set a standard time – even at the weekend – so your body and brain know when it's coming, and can prepare to wake up refreshed before your alarm. 

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“It will not only improve your sleep itself, but also help you feel more alert when you wake up." 

Try a couple of different times over a month or so to see what works best for you.

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