How to Increase Deep Sleep Stages for Optimal Recovery

Explore where deep sleep falls in your sleep cycle and learn tips for increasing deep sleep and waking more refreshed. 


Do you get enough deep sleep? It’s hard to measure (unless you use the help of an app like Pillow), but there’s a reason why everyone is so focused on getting more deep sleep, and why you should be, too.  
Deep sleep is crucial for restoring the body, improving focus, concentration, and memory, and keeping the body from getting sick. It’s only one part of our sleep cycle—accounting for around 20% of our sleep—but this 20% is vital, so it’s important that you do all you can to maximize your time in deep sleep.  
The biggest hindrance to deep sleep is not getting enough sleep, in general. However, by improving your sleep hygiene, you can get more sleep each night and, as a result, spend more time in deep sleep. We also have some extra tips for what you can add to your routine to promote more deep sleep and optimize your daily recovery.   

What Is Deep Sleep? 

Our sleep is not uniform. It may seem that way from the outside, with our bodies lying still during the night, but within our minds, we are cycling between four different stages of sleep, each one serving its own purpose. Deep sleep occurs during one of these cycles. 
There are four stages of sleep; three of these stages are non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and one is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. We know these stages exist thanks to researchers analyzing brain activity during sleep and finding four distinct patterns, each correlating to a sleep stage.  
The four stages of sleep, in order, are stage 1 (N1), stage 2 (N2), stage 3 (N3, slow-wave sleep (SWS), deep sleep), and stage 4 (REM sleep). The first three stages are the NREM stages, and the higher the NREM stage, the deeper the sleep and the harder it is for someone to wake up.  
Deep sleep occurs during stage 3. The body has relaxed after passing through stages one and two, and heart rate, muscle tone, and breathing rate have decreased. A key contributor to these deep sleep characteristics has to do with brain activity, which exhibits delta waves during deep sleep. Delta waves are slow, which is why deep sleep may also be called slow-wave sleep (SWS) and why everything else in the body slows down, too.  

Why is Deep Sleep Important? 

Experts believe the deep sleep stage in the sleep cycle is crucial for restorative sleep, which allows the body to recover and grow.  
One important role of deep sleep is regulating various hormones in the body, including growth hormone, which influences growth and metabolism. Additionally, for those who are pregnant, deep sleep regulates prolactin, the hormone that contributes to breast growth and lactation.  
Deep sleep may also improve the immune system, keeping you from getting sick and aiding the body in recovery if infection is present.  
While brain activity is reduced during deep sleep, as evident in the slow delta waves, deep sleep can still contribute to creativity and insightful thinking.
Memory, as well, is likely affected by deep sleep, with researchers believing that deep sleep helps with memory formation, or the process of turning short-term memory into long-term memory. On a related note, deep sleep may help remove the waste products in the brain associated with dementia development, meaning deep sleep may help the body hold off dementia.  
Ultimately, deep sleep is what helps you wake up feeling refreshed.  
However, the length of deep sleep can vary considerably. Estimates place its normal length at 20-40 minutes per cycle, with its duration varying by person and by cycle throughout the night. We spend more time in deep sleep in our first few sleep cycles, but as the night goes on, our time in deep sleep decreases.   

How to Increase Deep Sleep  

If you want to get more deep sleep at night, the best thing you can do is ensure you get enough sleep. The more sleep you get, the more cycles you go through, and the more times you’ll be in the deep sleep cycle. So, these tips for falling and staying asleep will help you get more deep sleep.  

Keep A Regular Sleep Schedule 

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is crucial for falling asleep easily as it helps you regulate your circadian rhythm. When your inner clock that dictates sleep-wake cycles is regular, you can fall asleep faster, allowing you to spend more time asleep and more time in deep sleep.  

Limit Distractions 

With deep sleep occurring during the third sleep stage, which usually occurs an hour after going to sleep, limiting distractions that may wake you before or during this sleep stage is crucial for ensuring you get all the deep sleep you can.  
Loud noises and bright lights can disturb your sleep, so try to limit them if you can. Otherwise, ear plugs, sound machines, blackout curtains, and eye masks can help to achieve an optimal environment for deep sleep. 

Limit Caffeine 

While caffeine gives you an energy boost during the day, it can impede your sleep if you drink it too close to bedtime. Namely, caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep, which means you’ll spend less time in deep sleep.  
To improve your sleep, avoid drinking caffeine in the evening. For those sensitive to caffeine’s effects, try keeping caffeine to just the morning.  

Reduce Stress 

Research has found that not only can stress make it difficult to fall asleep, but it can also cause you to get less deep sleep. So, if you’re stressed, you’ll get less sleep at night, and the sleep you do get won’t be as restorative. To combat this, try including some calming activities in your nighttime routine to reduce stress and make sleep easier to come by.  
Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing have been shown to naturally reduce anxiety levels, which may help to improve your sleep.  
Listening to soothing music before bed or as you fall asleep may help to calm the mind and relax the body. Colored noises, such as white, pink, or brown noise, have been shown to improve sleep quality, which generally equates to more deep sleep and greater restorative properties. This is likely because the frequency of sound in these noises, which is usually lower pitched, can encourage the slow brain waves characteristic of deep sleep.  
Pillow offers colored noises for you to listen to as you fall asleep, relaxing your mind and body, promoting sleep, and encouraging deep sleep during the night. Check out these auditory sleep aids to see how sound can encourage more deep sleep and aid your recovery from the day so that you’re well-rested come morning.   



Written by

Jessica G

Medical writer freelancer who has written hundreds of articles on varying topics. Masters of Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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