How Much Deep Sleep Do You Need? You Don’t Need to Know

Looking for the amount of deep sleep you need to feel your best? The answer isn’t actually deep sleep at all. Here’s why you should focus on getting a full night’s sleep instead.
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, Rise Science Scientific Reviewer
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Woman with eye mask in deep sleep

When it comes to getting the sleep we need, most of us think about deep sleep. It just sounds like the most beneficial part of sleep. And it is beneficial: Experts believe it helps with everything from recovery to memory to strengthening our immune system — not to mention helping us feel rested the next day. However, we argue, there’s just no point worrying about getting enough deep sleep each night. 

That’s in part because we cycle through different stages of sleep and each one helps us feel and perform our best the next day. But it’s also because we can’t control how long we spend in the deep sleep stage. What we can control, however, is how long we spend sleeping overall. And when you get enough sleep in general, without otherwise getting in the way (more on that later), your brain will get enough deep sleep by itself.

Below, we’ll dive into why deep sleep is important, but why you’re much better off focusing on getting enough sleep overall.

What are Sleep Stages? 

Even though we talk about sleep in terms of hours a night, those hours look very different. We sleep in cycles that last from 70 to 120 minutes, and, depending on the number of hours of sleep we each uniquely need, we get four to six of these sleep cycles a night. 

Within each sleep cycle, we move through different stages of sleep. These include three stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which make up about 75% to 80% of the night, and one stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which makes up the remaining 20% to 25%.

Here’s how a night of sleep should go: 

  • Stage 1 or N1 only lasts for a few minutes as you first drift off. This stage is light sleep, so you can easily be disturbed here by something like a loud noise. 
  • Stage 2 or N2 is when your breathing, heart rate, and brain activity all begin to slow down. This stage can last from 10 to 25 minutes in the first cycle and gets progressively longer with each cycle. Most people spend about 45% to 55% of their time asleep in this stage. 
  • Stage 3 or N3 is known as slow wave sleep (SWS) or deep sleep. In Stage 3, breathing and heart rate slow down even more and brain activity produces patterns known as delta brain waves. Deep sleep is where experts believe the most recovery takes place. This is the hardest stage to wake someone up from, and if you are awoken from deep sleep, you’ll feel the most groggy compared to waking during other stages. The deep sleep phase can last from 20 to 40 minutes in the first sleep cycle and will progressively decrease over the course of the night. You should spend about 10% to 15% of time asleep in the deep sleep stage.
  • The REM stage is when your body temperature becomes poikilothermic (i.e., no longer centrally-regulated), brain activity is no longer synchronized as it is in NREM, and the eye muscles can be seen moving quickly under the eyelids — hence the name “rapid eye movement”. While you can dream while in the other sleep stages, it’s much more common to do so in the REM stage. About 80% of vivid dream recalls come from being woken up during this stage. In fact, most of our muscles are paralyzed during this stage to stop us acting out our dreams. REM sleep may only last 1 to 5 minutes in the first cycle, getting longer and longer with each cycle. 

Once you’ve moved through all the stages of non-REM and REM sleep, you’ll start another cycle in stage 1 again. As the night goes on, your sleep cycles will consist of more time in stage 2 and REM. The deep sleep stage is longest in the first cycle of sleep, and gets shorter and shorter with each cycle — it’s common to not go into deep sleep after the second cycle at all. 

Why is Deep Sleep So Important? 

Deep sleep is vital for rest and recovery. In this stage, your immune system is strengthened, your brain detoxified, and your pituitary gland secretes growth hormone, which helps cells in the body regenerate and repair. This is also the sleep stage where your brain works on creating and storing memories and consolidating new information you’ve learned during the day. 

Not getting enough deep sleep can affect metabolic function, glucose regulation, and even your ability to retain information properly. Not to mention you simply won’t be feeling or performing your best. Plus, a lack of deep sleep has been linked to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

After a night of total sleep deprivation, the next time you go to sleep, you’ll spend less time in stages 1, 2, and REM sleep, and more time in deep sleep, which experts say shows just how vital this phase of sleep is. 

After a night of partial sleep deprivation — think six hours or fewer — you’ll spend less time in stages 1, 2, and REM, but deep sleep may be less affected as this mainly happens in the first few cycles of sleep. But that doesn’t mean this kind of sleep deprivation is okay. You’ll be throwing off the balance between the sleep stages, your daytime performance will keep getting worse and worse until you get enough sleep, and sleep studies show you’ll be increasing your risk of developing everything from type 2 diabetes to cancer.  

However, what this does show is that your brain is very good at self-optimizing. It prioritizes deep sleep, trying its best to get enough of it even if you're sleep deprived. Therefore, the best way to make sure you’re getting enough deep sleep is to get enough sleep, period. 

Focus on the Amount of Sleep You Get Overall Instead of Deep Sleep 

Deep sleep should be about 10% to 15% of your overall sleep, but as everyone needs a different amount of sleep each night, the ideal amount of deep sleep can vary wildly from person to person. 

Plus, we can’t control how we move through the phases of sleep and how long we spend in each one. But we can control how much sleep we get overall each night. And by getting the right amount of sleep, you’re giving yourself the best chance of cycling through all of the stages of sleep, naturally spending the ideal amount of time in each. So if you’re trying to work out how much deep sleep you need, you should instead work out how much sleep you need in total, and focus on getting that. 

This is called your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you should be getting each night. Just like height or eye color, you have no control over it. The average sleep need is 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes or so. But 13.5% may need 9 hours or more sleep a night. 

RISE takes the guesswork out of calculating your sleep need. The app uses historical sleep data on your phone to see how much sleep you’ve been getting. It then uses proprietary sleep-science-based models to calculate your exact sleep need in hours and minutes. All you need to do now to get the right amount of deep sleep, is to get this amount of sleep each night. That, of course, is easier said than done, so that’s where sleep hygiene comes in. 

Focus on Sleep Hygiene to Get the Sleep You Need

RISE app screenshot telling you when to limit caffeine intake
The RISE app will tell you when in the day you should stop sleep-disrupting behaviors.

Sleep hygiene is a set of behaviors you can do each day to get a good night's sleep. They’ll help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep all night, and ultimately get the right amount of sleep, and therefore the right amount of deep sleep.

Here’s what you should focus on: 

  • Cut yourself off from caffeine at the right time of day: Caffeine can last for 12 hours or more in the body so skip the afternoon coffee, or switch to decaf, to avoid having trouble falling asleep come bedtime. 
  • Avoid late-night meals: Eating late in the day will keep your digestive system active into the night, disturbing sleep. 
  • Avoid bright lights in the evening: Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses at least 90 minutes before bed so the light doesn’t disrupt your melatonin production, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. 
  • Take time to wind down before bed: Have a bedtime routine where you engage in relaxing and non-stimulating activities, like reading or yoga, to help you wind down.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule: For better sleep, try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day, even on weekends. 

RISE can tell you the right time to do these sleep hygiene behaviors based on your circadian rhythm (more on that later) and remind you to do them each day. 

Sleep hygiene also extends to what your sleep environment is like. For the ideal night’s rest, your bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet. To achieve that, aim to keep your bedroom at 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and consider wearing ear plugs, an eye mask, and using blackout curtains.

Forget Deep Sleep — Focus on Sleep Debt and Circadian Rhythm to Feel Your Best

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app will calculate how much sleep debt you have.

Perhaps the reason you’re wondering how many hours of deep sleep you need is because you want to improve your productivity, energy, or overall wellness. But what if we told you there are two things that make the biggest difference to how you feel and perform each day, and deep sleep isn’t one of them? Instead of worrying about deep sleep, you should instead turn your attention to sleep debt and your circadian rhythm. 

Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe your body compared to how much you’ve had over the last 14 nights. So if you need 8 hours 10 minutes of sleep a night, but you’ve only been getting 7 hours, you’ll have built up quite a bit of sleep debt. 

Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock that governs when you feel awake and tired over a roughly 24-hour cycle. Everyone’s circadian rhythm is slightly different as it is affected by your chronotype. This is our natural tendency to be an early bird, night owl, or somewhere in between. You can learn more about chronotypes in our in-depth guide. 

RISE calculates sleep debt and helps you keep track of it as you pay it down. The app also predicts your circadian rhythm each day, so you can align your schedule as best you can to match it. By keeping your sleep debt low — we recommend under five hours — and living in sync with your circadian rhythm — which includes waking up, sleeping, and doing high and low-energy tasks at the right times, you’ll notice a huge difference in your days.

Get Your Sleep Need Each Night and Your Brain Will Do the Rest

Deep sleep is important, of course, but you shouldn’t worry about how much of it you need and whether you’re getting that amount each night. Instead, calculate the total sleep time you need and focus on getting that. 

If you’re practicing good sleep hygiene, you’ll be much more likely to get the right amount of sleep each night. Then your brain will simply do its thing and get more deep sleep if it needs it. And if you really want to feel your best, keep your sleep debt low and align your schedule with your circadian rhythm for maximum productivity, energy, and well-being. 

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Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
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