SLEEP is vital to good health, but is often overlooked in our busy lives.
Quality and quantity of sleep are equally important.
Quantity of sleep is how many hours you squeeze in, while quality of sleep comes down to how much time you spend in each sleep stage over the course of the night.
Have you ever woken in the morning feeling groggy and as though you spent all night tossing and turning?
The chances are you spent very little time in "deep sleep" – arguably the most important part of the night.
How much deep sleep do I need per night?
Everyone needs to get between six and nine hours of sleep each night, the NHS says.
How much you need will depend on you as an individual.
Although people say the magical number is eight hours, many people can thrive on just seven or six.
But the quality of your sleep is another matter.
Sleep can be split into four different stages.
- Stage 1, the lightest sleep when you are just dozing off. It lasts only around five minutes.
- Stage 2, a period of light sleep before going into deep sleep. The heartbeat and breathing slow and your body temperature drops.
- Stage 3, deep sleep which is when the heartbeat and breathing slows to the lowest rate. It is hardest to be woken up at this stage.
- Stage 4, rapid eye movement (REM), in which we dream and our brains are most active.
We spend the night cycling between stages. Most of the time we are in sleep stage 2.
A quarter of sleep is spent in REM, the dreamy stage. This occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep.
And we should spend around 15 to 20 per cent of the night in a deep sleep – around one and a half hours.
For children the figures remain the same, requiring 20 per cent of deep sleep depending on the full amount of sleep recommended for their age.
Babies should be sleeping from 12 to 17 hours a day, toddlers between 10 and 14 hours and school-age children between 9 and 11 hours, with teenagers needing even less at 10 hours.
Deep sleep is the key component. Generally the more you get, the more rested you’ll feel the next day.
Deep sleep is what gives us that “refreshed” feeling in the morning.
What is deep sleep?
Deep sleep is also known as delta sleep due to the slowing of brainwaves.
The thinking parts of the brain essentially shut down, the muscles completely relax and no dreams take place during this time.
However, it is during this stage that sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking and night terrors, most often occur.
You can get a rough idea of how much deep sleep you get per night with sleep tracking apps.
Why is deep sleep so important?
Deep sleep is said to help us remain healthy and functional as we age.
That’s because it is the body's best opportunity to heal itself and promote growth.
It plays a role in keeping hormones in check; the body secretes various hormones to repair muscles and tissues, and strengthen the immune system thanks to deep sleep.
For young people or those with chronic illnesses, deep sleep is essential to repair any damage.
Meanwhile, deep sleep is when the brain stores memories and improves its ability to recall information.
So you can imagine what happens when we don’t get enough deep sleep.
Without it, we essentially age at a faster rate. It is harder to keep heart disease, bone problems or neurological issues like dementia at bay.
The American Sleep Association says people with insomnia will have impaired memory and can’t perform memory tasks very well.
Making sure you get enough can be vital to ensuring your health in later life.
The best way to get more deep sleep? Give yourself more hours to sleep, as this will give you more time in the deep sleep stage.
Other practices that might help include doing vigorous exercise, but for those with sleep disorders, do it as early in the day as possible.
Eating fewer carbohydrates and warming the body up in the bath may also help, ASA says.
If you need more advice about sleep, find out how to sleep when it's light out and stop your kids and babies from waking up early.
Or find out how to sleep in hot weather with our top 12 tips on staying cool in bed during the heatwave, including kicking your partner out the bed.
Check out Britain's sleep tips, from reading books, taking a bath and watching films to find out how we like to get ourselves to drop off in the UK.
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