Do you sometimes wake up feeling like you’ve barely slept? You may be missing out on some all-important deep sleep, the type that you need to feel revived and refreshed in the morning.1
You are certainly not alone, though. According to the Great British Bedtime Report published by The Sleep Council, a concerning 30% of people experience poor sleep most nights, with an additional 6% of people reporting ‘very poor’ sleep most nights.2
Keep reading to discover why deep sleep is important, why you may be struggling to get enough and 5 top tips on how to enjoy longer and deeper sleep.
Why is sleep important?
Getting enough good-quality sleep is just as essential to our survival as food and water.3
Lack of sleep makes it much harder to learn, create new memories, concentrate throughout the day and respond to life in general. Recent research also suggests that sleep allows our brain to do some essential ‘housekeeping’ to remove toxins that build up while we are awake.4
Not getting the Zzzs you need on a regular basis affects most systems and tissues in your body – from your immune system, metabolism, mood, brain and heart. A chronic lack of sleep can also put you at an increased risk of disorders like cardiovascular disease, depression, high blood pressure and obesity.5
8 common reasons we struggle to sleep
- Work hours:6 people are getting less sleep in general nowadays due to the trend of longer working hours and shift work, amongst other factors. Many try to ‘catch up’ on sleep at the weekend, but this doesn’t tend to be adequate
- Eating right before bed: eating before bed can trigger digestive issues like acid reflux and can have a generally negative effect on our sleep quality, as the body will have to focus on digesting and all the usual sleep processes, like bodily repair
- Stress and anxiety:7 we’ve all been there, lying in bed worrying about something or other and not being able to ‘switch off’, with stress and anxiety usually being at play. Both can be very disturbing to our sleep
- Medications:8 certain medications can affect sleep, like some antidepressants, steroid medications and epilepsy medications
- Getting older:9 over 60s tend to struggle with their sleep, which tends to be lighter, shorter and multiple awakenings
- Caffeine:10 drinking coffee throughout the day may perk you up, but it can also do the same thing when you’re trying to sleep at night
- An out-of-sync circadian rhythm:11 our circadian rhythm, aka sleep-wake cycle, influences our sleep a lot. Light in the morning triggers bodily functions and triggers hormones to wake us up, and darkness at night-time does the same thing for falling asleep. However, our modern lives and the technology we use can disturb this natural cycle, e.g. the bright light from our phones, working night shifts, round-the-clock entertainment, etc.
- A poor sleeping environment:12 an uncomfortable bed or a bedroom that’s too hot, cold, noisy or light can negatively affect your sleep
How many hours of sleep should we get a night?
There are lots of factors that determine how much sleep you need a night, one of them being your age. See the table below for the average hours of sleep you should be getting per night depending on how old you are.13
|Age range||Average hours of sleep needed per night|
|Babies (4-12 months old)||12-16|
|Toddlers (1-2 years old)||11-14|
|Children 3-5 years old||10-13|
|Children 6-12 years old||9-12|
|Teenagers (13-18 years old)||8-10|
As you can see, younger people tend to need more hours of sleep per night to help their brains develop.
What is deep sleep?
Deep sleep is the most restorative sleep we experience. During deeper sleep stages, our bodies put energy into tissue repair and growth, as well as hormone release and energy restoration. It also helps us the most out of all the sleep cycles to feel refreshed and revived during the following day.
Most deep sleep occurs in sleep stage 3 read more about sleep cycles below.
What are the different sleep cycles?
Sleep stage 1: we experience very light sleep in this cycle and can be woken easily. It usually lasts 5-10 minutes at the start of our sleep
Sleep stage 2: our heart rates slow down and body temperature drops in this cycle. It usually lasts 20 minutes at a time and makes up around 50% of your total sleep (you have multiple cycles of this stage throughout the night)
Sleep stage 3: our muscles relax and blood pressure/breathing rates drop in this stage and we become non-responsive and very difficult to wake. This is our deepest sleep cycle and helps us transition into REM sleep.
REM sleep: Rapid Eye Movement sleep causes your body to become immobilised while your brain becomes more active, your eyes move rapidly and you have dreams – this stage can last up to an hour and around 20% of total sleep is made up of this stage.14
How to tell if you’re not getting enough sleep
Although there are guidelines for how much sleep you should be getting a night, usually dependent on your age, everyone has individual sleep needs; 7 hours of sleep may feel like plenty for you, whereas another person would feel like it’s barely scratching the surface.
Don’t worry though, your body will let you know if you’re not getting enough sleep! If you have one or more of the following signs, it’s a good indicator that you may not be getting adequate sleep:
- Trouble staying awake during the day
- Feeling annoyed/irritated a lot
- Unmotivated/lacking energy to do exercise, especially if you usually enjoy it
- Gaining weight and feeling hungry a lot
- Brain fog and lack of focus
5 tips for deeper & longer sleep
Here’s some top tips on how to sleep longer and feel better:
1. Get back to black
Melatonin is a key hormone in helping you to fall asleep more quickly, as it helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Having low levels of melatonin can cause sleep problems, so it is sometimes prescribed to help insomniacs. Darkness causes the body to produce more melatonin, so keeping your lights dimmed in the evening and reducing your screen time can help raise your melatonin levels naturally. In summertime, black-out blinds are a must to make your bedroom as dark as possible.
Handpicked content: 12 ways to prep your bedroom for a better sleep
2. Run a better bath
Experts recommend a warming bath before bed as a drop in body temperature (when you get out of the hot water), is known to promote sleep. Make your soak even more restful with some aromatherapy bath oil – lavender oil in particular is thought to have relaxing properties. Then turn off the light and use candles for minimal brightness and extra sleepy points.
3. Jump around
You’ve probably heard that getting some exercise can improve your sleep. Plenty of research has found that exercise has an effect on sleep, including a scientific review that concluded it is beneficial for people over 60. But despite all the research, we still don’t know exactly why it helps. It may be thanks to reducing anxiety or depressive symptoms (which are associated with insomnia), physically tiring you out, or having a similar effect on body temperature to a bath.
One myth that has now been discounted is that exercising too close to bedtime can disturb sleep. As there’s no evidence to support this, experts suggest it’s still better to exercise in the evening rather than not at all.
4. Listen to music
Listening to music can improve sleep quality, according to a review of studies. Researchers used a variety of soothing music (including relaxing classical) for a minimum of 25 minutes, so choose something gentle to listen to at bedtime. Audiobooks were not found to have the same effect, though, so it’s not a shortcut to squeezing in your book club reading unfortunately…
5. Eat early, snack late
A late dinner is likely to mean a bad night’s sleep, researchers have found. Lying down shortly after eating is known to increase the risk of acid reflux, while the effort the body puts into digesting is contrary to a restful bedtime.
However, a grumbling tum can also prevent you slipping happily into the land of nod. To help prevent night-time hunger waking you, try a small snack of tryptophan-containing foods – such as nuts, seeds, dairy and turkey. Tryptophan is converted by the body into serotonin, a hormone that is linked to sleep.
So, there you have it, why and how to enjoy longer and deeper sleep! In summary:
- Make sure your bedroom is nice and dark, limit bright screens at night and consider black-out blinds in the summer to help you sleep longer and better.
- Try having a relaxing bath with soothing essential oils before you go to bed to help your body get ready for sleep
- Make sure to exercise regularly
- Try turning on some soothing tunes before bed to get you feeling sleepy
- Consider changing when you eat to help you sleep
We hope these sleep tips help you get the good night’s rest you deserve so you can tackle anything life throws your way.
Last updated: 8 January 2021
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia’s LinkedIn profile
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