Four things you need to know about deep sleep
Friday March 31st, 2017

4 Things You Need to Know About Deep Sleep — and How to Get It

When we think of the mechanics of sleep, three letters often come to mind: REM. A staple of 1980s rock music (be honest, we all loved “Losing My Religion”) as well as an oft-quoted sleep standard, REM (or rapid eye movement) sleep has gained a reputation as the highly coveted and difficult to achieve period of sleep that recharges your batteries, stores your memories, and houses your dreams.  It’s rare to read an article, how-to, or scientific study that doesn’t mention the many benefits of REM sleep.

But contrary to just about anything you read on sleep science, REM sleep isn’t the be-all and end-all of what happens during the night. There’s another layer of sleep that’s even more crucial to overall health — and it’s aptly named “deep sleep.” Part of the typical sleep cycle each night, deep sleep occurs between light sleep and REM, serving several functions in the restoration and evolution of your brain. Here are the four things you need to know about deep sleep — and how you can make sure you’re getting it every night.

Deep sleep regenerates energy in the brain.

While it might seem hard to believe, when you’re asleep, your brain is actually in an active state. Brain waves continue, slowing and increasing based on where you are in your sleep cycle. Whereas the brain waves during REM sleep move similarly to when you’re awake, deep sleep is characterized by slow oscillations of brain waves (see chart below). According to a 2010 study on sleep and energy levels, scientists observed a surge in energy during these slow oscillations — meaning that deep sleep does repair the body and store energy for the next day’s tasks. You can thank deep sleep tomorrow for that morning burst of energy.

Memories are made during deep sleep.

You’ve likely heard before that sleep turns your everyday moments into memories overnight. But how exactly does that process unfold? That would be deep sleep doing its thing. According to a different 2016 study on sleep and memory, slow oscillations indicate communication between the hippocampus (which stores your recently acquired memories) and the cortex (where long term memories are stored). We can thank deep sleep for declarative memories, in particular — they’re memories that you can verbally describe, like that hilarious family vacation or the plot of your favorite TV show, rather than skills-based memories like riding a bike or changing a tire.

It cleans out your brain.

Turns out, deep sleep is also like a self-cleaning oven — sounds strange, right? But during deep sleep, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flushes toxins and waste collected during the day out of the body, keeping the brain clear and healthy. This same brain flushing process also targets and removes a toxic protein called beta-amyloid, which is known for collecting in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Keeping your brain clean is just one more item on deep sleep’s list.

Deep sleep keeps you growing — but decreases as you age.

Another essential function of deep sleep? Hormone release. Throughout life, deep sleep helps enable the release of important developmental hormones, for growth and those utilized during glucose metabolism. It makes sense, then, that a lack of deep sleep is often related to chronic diseases like obesity and high blood pressure, note two additional studies.

It also stands to reason that deep sleep tends to decrease with age — your body isn’t growing much anymore and tends to release less hormones. But, according to a 2013 study on sleep and aging, with stress, use of psychotropic drugs, and other neurological degenerative diseases, deep sleep can also be tougher to achieve.

So how can you make sure you’re getting as much deep sleep as you need to stay healthy? Recent research has shown that certain pharmacological drugs containing the molecules gaboxadol and tiagabine can help sustain deep sleep for longer periods of time — but dependence and daytime side effects are often present when sleep-related pharmaceuticals are at play. Electric and magnetic stimuli have also proven effective, but naturally, lack of access makes this option a bit tougher.

An easier at-home remedy? Sound — and more specifically, the right frequency of sound. Of course, we often prefer to sleep in silence, but sustained and slow oscillations of sound can create the perfect environment for deep sleep to occur. Our Dreem headband not only tracks your sleep for better understanding but also stimulates sound to improve its quality, so you’re measuring and improving your rest. With the power of deep sleep on your side, you can make your days more productive, energetic, and full — just what life ordered.

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