Here’s a shocker…sleeping for seven or more hours at night may NOT be enough to feel well-rested the next day. Your sleep quantity (number of hours you sleep) is only one part of the equation. The other, and more important part is your sleep quality — specifically, getting deep sleep.
During deep sleep, your body repairs and restores itself to maintain and optimize good health. Unfortunately, studies show that the older we get, the less time we spend in deep sleep.
Lack of deep sleep is associated with many health problems. But perhaps its most surprising impact is accelerated aging.
That’s right! Lack of deep sleep causes a series of bodily responses that ultimately breaks down collagen and elastin, resulting in a thin, dehydrated, and wrinkly skin.
But don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do to get enough deep sleep again and take control of your health and prevent accelerated aging!
But first, it’s important to understand how sleep works and define deep sleep.
There are two categories of sleep: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. Both types make up the sleep cycle which repeats throughout the night every 90-120 minutes while you sleep.
“Light” and “Deep” sleep happen first, and they last for about 90 minutes. Then, REM sleep follows.
However, these stages don’t occur in this order all the time. Sometimes, after Deep Sleep, you go back to Light Sleep before going into REM sleep.
You spend about 50% of your sleeping hours in light sleep. In this stage, you have already fallen asleep. Your muscles relax more, your body temperature drops, and your eye movements stop, leaving you in a more restful state.
Your brain waves also slow down in this stage, but brief bursts of brain activity still occur to regulate your sleep.
Because it is the most restorative, Deep Sleep typically occurs earlier in the evening so that your body ensures the proper healing and related processes can occur. Reaching this stage is what you need to feel well-rested and refreshed in the morning.
During deep sleep, your muscles relax even more, causing your heartbeat and breathing to be at their slowest. Also, your brain produces its slowest waves called the delta waves, which is why deep sleep is also known as delta sleep or slow-wave sleep.
Deep sleep activates the restoration (think anti-aging) processes of our body. Here’s what happens during deep sleep:
Because we’re in the deepest, most restorative form of sleep and relaxation in this stage, loud noises are less likely to wake us up. But if they do wake us up in the middle of deep sleep, we’ll experience sleep inertia or sleep drunkenness or grogginess.
The last stage of sleep is REM sleep, and it’s when we dream! Our brain becomes highly active at this stage, and our heart rate and breathing speed up. Interestingly, our bodies also come with a safety mechanism so we don’t act out our dreams — during REM Sleep, our body is immobilized (think temporary paralysis) where only our eyes are able to move and they do so very fast, hence the term, rapid eye movement (REM).
This stage is also when our brain recharges and converts short-term memories into long-term ones.
REM sleep occurs for about 10 minutes in the first sleep cycle, but it gradually lasts longer throughout the night. It can even last for an hour.
Babies spend 50% of their sleep in the REM stage, which means they dream for a long time. But adults, not so much. In fact, the older we get, the less we stay in REM sleep.
Because we need deep sleep to restore our tissues, muscles, and energy, regenerate our cells and feel well-rested, a lack of it makes us more vulnerable to infections and diseases.
Physically, not getting enough deep sleep can compromise your immune system’s response to vaccines. It affects your body’s ability to fight infections.
Neurologically, it’s during deep sleep that your brain eliminates its waste products. So, when you lack deep sleep, you may increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
In addition, reduced deep sleep contributes to insulin resistance. As a result, you become at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
That’s quite a lot of health risks which shows how important sleep quality and deep sleep are.
Lack of deep sleep makes you age faster! Let me say that again, accelerated aging happens when you don’t get enough Deep Sleep.
Without enough deep sleep, our body doesn’t undergo restoration and rejuvenation before we face another day, making us more susceptible to stress.
And when we feel stressed, especially long-term, our body produces more cortisol (also known as the stress hormone). An increase in cortisol increases inflammation, which degrades and breaks down our collagen- the most abundant protein in our body that acts as scaffolding to our connective tissues, including our muscle and skin and ultimately leads to weight gain (think menopausal belly fat).
So, when we lose collagen, our muscle integrity and skin structure are affected, causing it to wrinkle and sag, thereby accelerating the aging process.
Alright, now that we’ve discussed how important deep sleep is to health and aging, let’s learn how we can get more of it.
First of all, consult your doctor to know if there’s an underlying medical condition that disrupts your sleep. If you don’t deal with it, it may be challenging to get quality sleep by simply changing your sleeping habits and environment.
Sticking to a specific time to sleep and wake up can make it easier for you to get enough deep sleep. Consistently sleeping and waking up at the same time every day helps build a routine that your body eventually learns to follow.
However, make sure that your sleep quantity is enough to make you feel well-rested. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep, but some people can function well with just 5 hours of good quality sleep.
Develop good sleeping habits that prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. There’s a handful of them you can do before and during your bedtime to ensure quality sleep:
Aside from conditioning your body, make your environment sleep-friendly as well.
Once the sun goes down, dim the lights, especially in the bedroom.
Also, set the room’s temperature between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit. A cold room can kickstart your body’s temperature drop as you slowly fall asleep. But, keep your feet warm by wearing socks. "Cold room + toasty feet" is the perfect combo for a good night’s sleep.
A study published in the National Institute of Health shows that middle-aged adults sleep better and longer when they exercise, regardless of exercise’s duration and intensity.
So, get moving to promote deep sleep and growth hormone production, and help your body become more capable of repairing itself!
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