Why Deep Sleep Helps Your Brain

Anyone who’s spent a long night tossing and turning understands the value of a good night’s sleep. It’s not just about the number of hours you spend in that bed, but the quality of sleep you get there.

According to the American Sleep Association (ASA), deep sleep slows down your brain waves, which solidifies memories and restores your body and brain. If you wake up unrested, you may not have experienced this critical phase of sleep.

Not getting enough quality sleep can affect all areas of your life. The most obvious effect is the tired and listless feeling that accompanies you throughout the day. Less noticeable is the potential damage it will do to your brain health over the long term.

Adults should sleep seven hours a night in a dark, quiet room with no visual stimulation. When you’re stressed, have too much caffeine, or your body temperature is unregulated — which means you’re feeling too hot or too cold — falling into deep sleep can be difficult. But there are things you can do to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Our brain in sleep

During sleep, our mind and body are in relaxation and recovery mode, while our awareness and muscle activity decrease. The brain does its job quietly, helping the body prepare for another day of quality living. For example, our brain controls the circadian rhythm responsible for producing the melatonin that helps us sleep.

There are four stages of sleep that repeat four to five times a night as your brain goes through two main states: NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

– NREM sleep

  • Stage 1: Transition between waking and sleeping states (duration approx. 5-10 minutes)

  • Stage 2: Body temperature drops and heartbeat slows down (takes about 20 minutes)

  • Stage 3: Deep sleep begins, muscles fully relax while blood pressure and respiratory rate drop

– REM sleep

Why deep sleep is important

Deep sleep is crucial for brain recovery, which allows us to wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. Healthy sleep is critical to “brain plasticity,” or how we process and store information. Too little sleep can affect our ability to remember and concentrate.

One study even found that sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Another study suggests that sleep deprivation can cause the brain to shrink.

Aside from brain health, sleep deprivation can contribute to other health risks, including:

10 tips for a better, deeper sleep

There are ways to maximize your deep sleep experience each night and keep your brain sharp and focused during the day. Among them:

  • Sleep in a dark and quiet room.

  • Turn off electronic devices and avoid looking at bright screens two to three hours before bed.

  • Give yourself enough time to fall asleep.

  • Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bed.

  • Consider getting at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise.

  • Hear white noise.

  • Block light with an eye mask and block noise with earplugs.

  • Track your sleep with an app or smartwatch.

  • Take a melatonin supplement one to three hours before bed.

  • Establish a comfortable bedroom temperature, ideally between 60 and 67 degrees.

If you have a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, insomnia, or parasomnias, a doctor can suggest other sleep aids and help you identify underlying mental or physical health issues.

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