Top 5 Habits Keeping You From Deep Sleep
Getting enough hours of sleep (seven to nine hours per night) alone is not enough to guarantee a restful and restorative night’s sleep. Often overlooked, the quality of your sleep impacts mood, wakefulness, and other health outcomes.
In addition to sleeping enough, it’s crucial to achieve deep sleep. Deep sleep (or delta sleep) occurs when your brain waves become extremely slow, your muscles are fully relaxed, and it’s difficult to wake up.
Whether you realize it or not, your daily habits could be interfering with your ability to achieve deep sleep. Without enough deep sleep, you may experience sluggishness, mood swings, irritability, anxiety and other side effects of sleep deprivation.
Reason #1: Inconsistent Sleep Schedule
Life is unpredictable, but an inconsistent sleep schedule wreaks havoc on your sleep quality. As much as possible, you should be aiming to have a regular bedtime. This supports maintenance of your circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock). Research shows that regular sleep schedules support quality, deep sleep.
Between travel delays, social schedules, and other responsibilities, we can’t always make it to bed in time. This creates a bit of a predicament–do you sleep in to “catch up” on the missed sleep or do you force yourself to wake up at your usual time?
As tempting as it is to sleep in after a late night, keeping your wake time consistent is key. Although you’re sure to feel more tired than usual, you will preserve your sleep schedule. Hopefully, after pushing through the fatigue all day you’ll be able to easily fall asleep at your regular time.
Image source: SleepMDNYC.com
By contrast, sleeping in only throws off your sleep schedule further. Even more, sleeping in after a late night can end up pushing your bedtime back later and later. This can quickly become a slippery slope until your usual wakeup time feels hardly possible and you’re tired throughout the day.
When it comes to achieving deep sleep, a little discipline goes a long way. So go ahead and set your wakeup alarms for Saturday and Sunday too, and you’ll soon see an improvement in your sleep quality.
Reason #2: Mouth Breathing
Although the human body was beautifully designed to take in air through our nasal cavities, many people regularly breathe through their mouths. This could be due to temporary circumstances (like a cold), or more permanent medical conditions like a deviated septum.
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While mouth breathing seems to do the job, it causes a wide variety of health issues–including a decrease in sleep quality. It’s also possible to breathe through your mouth at night without realizing it. Yes, unfortunately you can unconsciously switch from nasal breathing to mouth breathing in your sleep.
This activates the body’s fight or flight system, which generates adrenaline in the system. Adrenaline is the enemy of a good night’s sleep and a cheerful morning. You can encourage your mouth to stay closed with non-invasive tools like mouth tape or chin straps. Once you’ve switched to nose breathing, you will instantly unlock deeper, more peaceful sleep.
Reason #3: Exercising Too Close to Bedtime
Although exercise is generally an excellent tool to improve sleep quality and quantity, working out at the wrong time can actually hurt your sleep schedule! Evening exercise stimulates endorphins, increased body temperatures, and heightened heart rates. All of these physiological responses are the opposite of what our bodies undergo as we prepare for sleep. So unless you are a major night owl already, avoid evening exercise!
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However, moderate intensity physical activity such as walking won’t hurt your sleep as long as you wait at least an hour before trying to sleep. High-impact, strenuous physical activity right before bedtime can interfere with your ability to get deep sleep. That means you should try to schedule your runs, weight lifting, and intense cardio for earlier in the day to achieve deeper sleep at night.
Reason #4: Snoring
Snoring affects more than just the person sleeping in the bed next to you. If you’re snoring, your sleep quality is suffering!
Regardless which type of snorer you are, it impacts your sleep quality. However, sleep apnea (or throat snoring) creates the biggest consequences for sleep quality. Individuals suffering from sleep apnea stop breathing up to hundreds of times throughout the night. When airflow stops, the body’s reflexes cause just enough wakefulness to restart breathing.
Image source: TheNewYorkTimes.com / Raul Soria
Although these “micro-arousals” keep you breathing, they completely block your ability to reach deep levels of sleep. Depending on the severity of the sleep apnea, daytime consequences can be quite serious: falling asleep unexpectedly, loss of productivity, mood swings, and more. Always seek medical advice if your or a loved one might be suffering from sleep apnea.
Reason #5: Drinking at Night
Your big evening out or even a simple nightcap can prevent you from getting enough deep sleep at night. This may surprise you, as many people experience initial drowsiness from alcohol intake. Even if you fall asleep faster than usual after a couple of drinks, you’re almost guaranteed to wake up feeling exhausted the next day.
Although the exact effects of alcohol on sleep will vary per person, generally alcohol creates an imbalance between slow-wave (deep) sleep and REM sleep. This leads to poor sleep quality, more frequent wake-ups, and intense grogginess the next morning.
So the next time you’re considering one last drink right before bed, reconsider if it’s worth the damage to your sleep. Whenever possible, drink earlier in the day so that the alcohol can completely leave your bloodstream, leaving your sleep unaffected.