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How To Get More Deep Sleep? Focus On Your Sleep Need

To get more deep sleep, you need to make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep for you overall and maintaining good sleep hygiene.
Published
2022-07-29
Updated
14 MINS
Man lying in bed in deep sleep

If you’re battling brain fog, feeling sluggish, or can’t seem to boost your energy levels no matter what you do, you might think you need more deep sleep. This may be the case, but it’s not quite as straightforward as that. 

While deep sleep is hugely important for our health and how we feel each day, the other stages of sleep contribute to those things, too. Plus, you can’t really control how much deep sleep you get, but you can control how much sleep you get overall and what you do to impact that sleep for better or worse. 

Below, we dive into what deep sleep is and how you can try to get more of it. But we also cover why you shouldn’t worry about deep sleep in particular, and what you should focus on doing instead to be at your best each day. 

What is Deep Sleep?

Deep sleep, or slow wave sleep, is one of the stages of sleep. These include four non-rapid eye movement stages (also known as non-REM sleep or NREM sleep) and one rapid-eye movement or REM stage.

You move through these different stages at night in a cycle that lasts 70 to 120 minutes in total. It’s different for each person, but ideally you’d get four to six of these cycles in a good night’s sleep. 

Here’s what it looks like: 

  • Stage 1 or N1: This stage only lasts a few minutes as you drift from consciousness into very light sleep. You might spend 2% to 5% of the night in this stage. 
  • Stage 2 or N2: Here, your breathing, heart rate, and brain activity start to slow down. This stage lasts from 10 to 25 minutes in the first cycle and you spend longer in stage 2 as the night goes on, eventually spending about 45% to 55% of your time asleep in this stage. 
  • Stage 3 and 4 or N3 and N4: This is where deep sleep happens. Stage 3 only lasts a few minutes before you move into stage 4. Your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure drop and your brain activity produces patterns known as delta waves. This stage could last 20 to 40 minutes in the first sleep cycle and it gets shorter with each cycle. 
  • Rapid eye movement or REM stage: This is the stage that’s known for dreams. Your body temperature drops, brain activity increases, and your muscles are paralyzed to stop you acting out your dreams. Plus, your eye muscles move quickly under your eyelids — hence the name “rapid eye movement.” You might spend one to five minutes in this stage in the first cycle, and this increases with each cycle. 

Once you’ve moved through all the stages of sleep, you’ll start another cycle from the beginning. 

Why is Deep Sleep Important?

Deep sleep sounds like the kind of sleep we all want: restorative and energy-giving. But it’s not only that. 

During deep sleep, your body works on: 

  • Strengthening your immune system 
  • Consolidating your memories  
  • Building bones and muscle
  • Detoxifying your brain 
  • Your pituitary gland secretes human growth hormone, which helps regenerate cells in the body 

Not getting enough deep sleep has been linked to conditions like heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, and it messes with everything from your glucose metabolism to your long-term memory. 

However, while there are plenty of benefits of deep sleep, it shouldn’t steal all the limelight. Getting enough of all of the stages of sleep each night is just as vital to our health and how we feel and function the next day.

So, if you’re looking to get more deep sleep because you want to boost your energy levels, health, mood, or productivity, anything you do to get more sleep overall will help. 

How Much Deep Sleep Should I Get?

It’s difficult to say how much deep sleep you should be getting. Deep sleep makes up 10% to 15% of your overall sleep time, but we all need a different amount of sleep, so the real hour-and-minutes amount of deep sleep you need can vary wildly. What’s more, you spend less time in the deep sleep stage as you age and more time in stage 2.

Find out more about how much deep sleep you need here and why you shouldn’t worry about it. And heads up, you don’t need to worry about how much REM sleep you need, either.

How to Get More Deep Sleep?

You can’t really control how much deep sleep you get and your body is very good at optimizing your sleep to get the right amounts of each stage if you give it a chance. 

So, instead of worrying about how much deep sleep you get, you should just focus on getting the right amount of sleep for you each night and making sure that sleep is healthy and naturalistic. Deep sleep will then fall into place. Here’s how:

1. Find Out Your Sleep Need

Your sleep need is the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not 8 hours of sleep for everyone. The average sleep need is 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.

The RISE app can work out your individual sleep need using your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models. You’ll get a number to aim for in hours and minutes. Instead of working out how long you should spend in each sleep stage, your first priority should be meeting your overall sleep need. 

2. Meet Your Sleep Need Through Good Sleep Hygiene

RISE app screenshot showing you when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Of course, getting enough sleep each night is easier said than done, but sleep hygiene can help. Sleep hygiene is the set of behaviors you can do throughout the day to help you get better sleep at night. Sleep hygiene also ensures the sleep you do get is healthy and natural, and it makes sure nothing gets in the way of you spending the right amount of time in each sleep stage. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get light first thing: Get at least 10 minutes of natural light as soon as possible after waking up. 30 minutes if it’s cloudy. This will reset your circadian rhythm, or body clock, for the day, and set you up to feel sleepy later that evening. 
  • Get natural light throughout the day: Work by a window, go for a long walk, or take your workout outside. Sunlight during the day can make you less sensitive to bright light come evening. 
  • Avoid bright light before bed: Light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, so put on blue-light blocking glasses and dim the lights at least 90 minutes before bed.  
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, large meals, and exercise too close to bedtime: All four can keep you up or wake you up in the night. RISE can tell you the exact time you should stop these things according to your circadian rhythm each day. 
  • Make your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Use blackout curtains, an eye mask, and earplugs and aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary and stop disruptions waking you up.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule: Aim to regulate your sleep patterns by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends.

It sounds like a lot, but RISE can remind you when to do 20+ sleep habits so you stay on top of them each day and have a better chance of meeting your sleep need each night. 

3. Sync Up with Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window so you know the best time to go to sleep
The RISE app can tell you the best time to go to bed.

To make the most of sleep hygiene, you can time the behaviors to your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal body clock. It runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and, amongst other things, it controls when you feel awake and sleepy. 

Timing sleep hygiene to your circadian rhythm makes the behaviors more effective, but it also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, making sure you feel sleepy at the right times and therefore making you more likely to meet your sleep need each night.

Plus, there’s a time of night when your body naturally wants to sleep. In the RISE app, we call this your Melatonin Window. This is a roughly one-hour window when your brain’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. 

Aim to go to sleep in this window and you’ll have a better chance of falling and staying asleep, hitting your sleep need and your deep sleep need as a result. 

4. Give Yourself Enough Time in Bed 

If you find out your sleep need is 8 hours 30 minutes, and you need to be up at 8:30 a.m. each day, it’s easy to think you just need to get into bed at midnight and you’ll hit your sleep need. But sleep latency and sleep fragmentation mean it doesn’t work that way. What do these terms mean? 

  • Sleep latency: This is the time it takes you to fall asleep. 
  • Sleep fragmentation: This is the amount of time you wake up during the night. 

These two terms combine to work out your sleep efficiency, or how long you spend in bed actually sleeping. If your sleep efficiency is low, you may spend 8 hours 30 minutes in bed, but only be asleep for 7 hours of that, meaning you won’t get enough sleep for you and possibly not enough deep sleep.

There are a few quick fixes for this:

  • Give yourself more time in bed: Add 30 minutes to an hour onto your sleep need to determine how long you should be in bed for. 
  • Wind down before bed: Anxiety increases both sleep latency and fragmentation. Reduce this by making time for a bedtime routine to do calming activities like yoga, reading, or listening to music to help you destress. 
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene (especially avoiding sleep disruptors): Caffeine can increase your sleep latency and alcohol can increase your sleep fragmentation, so be sure to keep your sleep hygiene on point to improve your overall sleep efficiency.

5. Keep Your Sleep Debt Low 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app works out how much sleep debt you have.

It’s not always possible to meet your sleep need each and every night, and that’s where sleep debt comes in. Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. If you regularly don’t get enough sleep, you’ll build up a lot of sleep debt and this’ll affect almost every aspect of your health and day. 

If you’re not feeling as good as you’d like, you might be blaming this on not getting enough deep sleep, when really sleep debt might be the problem. 

RISE makes keeping on top of your sleep debt easy. The app calculates how much sleep debt you have each day and keeps track of it as you work to pay it back or keep it low. 

We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours to reach your energy potential each day. You can learn how to catch up on sleep here. And by getting more sleep, you’ll be getting more deep sleep, too.  

What Science Says Helps You Get More Deep Sleep 

Above are our main tips for getting more deep sleep, which all focus on getting the right amount of sleep for you overall. However, there are a few things studies show can impact how much deep sleep you get specifically, either positively or negatively:  

  • Light: Research found high-intensity light exposure and getting light early in the day resulted in more deep sleep. Those exposed to light later in the day woke up more often during the night, too.
  • Caffeine: One sleep study found when participants had 100 mg of caffeine at bedtime their sleep latency increased and deep sleep decreased. 
  • Alcohol: Alcohol, even in small doses, has been shown to reduce deep sleep. 
  • A short-term low-carb diet: Research found a short-term very low carbohydrate diet increased deep sleep and decreased REM sleep. 
  • Sedating antidepressants: People with depression tend to show less slow wave brain activity during sleep, but sedating antidepressants increase how much deep sleep they get. 
  • Exercise: One review found exercise 1.5 hours before bed increased deep sleep and higher self-perceived intensity exercise increased it too, compared to lower-intensity exercise. But a different study found exercising at 7 a.m. increased deep sleep at night more than exercising 1 p.m. 
  • Pink noise: Research found pink noise played throughout the night at 40 and 50 decibels increased deep sleep compared to pink noise at 35 decibels. And another study found pink noise played during deep sleep increased slow brain wave activity in participants with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease). 
  • Hypnosis: When sleepers in one study listened to a hypnosis tape telling them to “sleep deeper” during a midday nap, their time in deep sleep and amount of slow wave activity increased. 
  • Sleep disorder treatments: People with sleep apnea get less deep sleep, but this can be lengthened with treatment. Speak to a doctor about treatment options if you think you’re suffering with a sleep disorder.

Should I Worry About Deep Sleep?

Our short answer is no. Here’s why: 

  • You can’t control it: Even if you incorporate all the tips above into your life, you can’t control how long you’ll spend in deep sleep, or any other stage.
  • You can’t accurately measure it: Sleep tracking at home isn’t an accurate way of measuring how long you spend in each sleep stage, so even if you work to increase the amount of deep sleep you get, there’s no way of knowing if it’s working.  
  • Research is inconclusive: Just take the studies on exercise above, for example. They show morning and late-night exercise increase deep sleep. Another example is a study showing couples got more deep sleep when they slept without their partner, while another study found couples got more deep sleep when they shared a bed. The same thing happens in studies into marijuana use, showing it can both increase and decrease deep sleep. 
  • You’ll do things as part of good sleep hygiene anyway: Many of the things you could do to boost deep sleep you’d do as part of a good sleep hygiene routine — think avoiding caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime. 
  • Your body self-optimizes: After a night of total sleep deprivation, the next time you go to sleep, your body will spend more time in deep sleep and less time in the other stages. Essentially, your body knows how to get the deep sleep it needs, you just make sure you spend enough time asleep overall and maintain good sleep hygiene, so you’re not getting in the way of that self-optimization. 
  • Sleep debt and your circadian rhythm are the biggest things affecting how you feel each day: If you want to improve everything from your focus to your energy levels, keep sleep debt low and sync up with your circadian rhythm. Deep sleep will fall into place itself. 
  • Every sleep stage is important: Don’t focus on deep sleep and forsake the other stages. Each one contributes to how we feel and function the next day. In fact, Apple is now calling stage 2 “core sleep,” instead of “light sleep” as many fitness trackers do. This is to stop people brushing it off as an unimportant part of the sleep cycle or seeing it as something that needs fixing.  

Get More Sleep to Get More Deep Sleep 

Getting enough deep sleep is important for your health and how you feel each day. But there’s really not a lot you can do to control how much deep sleep you get each night. What you can control, however, is how much sleep you get overall and how naturalistic that sleep is (via good sleep hygiene). 

If you want to boost your productivity, mood, or energy levels, use RISE to work out your sleep need and focus on getting this each night with the app’s timed reminders for 20+ sleep hygiene habits. 

By getting the right amount of sleep for you, your body will do its thing and get the right amount of deep sleep, with no extra work on your part needed.

Your sleep questions answered:

Summary FAQs

Why do I get so little deep sleep?

You may get little deep sleep if you’re not getting enough sleep overall, or if you’re doing things like drinking caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime. However, tracking is unreliable, so you likely don’t know how much deep sleep you’re getting in the first place. Get enough deep sleep by focusing on meeting your individual sleep need through good sleep hygiene.

Is 3 hours of deep sleep good?

Deep sleep makes up 10% to 15% of your total sleep time, but we all need a different amount of sleep, so the amount of deep sleep we need varies. Focus on getting enough sleep for you and your brain will make sure you’re getting the deep sleep you need.

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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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