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Deep Sleep: How Much Do You Need?

Deep sleep describes a particular stage of sleep that is important for waking up feeling refreshed and alert. Although there are no definitive guidelines for how much deep sleep you need, experts say that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

There are three stages of NREM sleep: stage 1, stage 2, and stage 3. Deep sleep is a term that describes stage 3 of NREM sleep. Each sleep stage is associated with certain physical processes and benefits, and people cycle through each of these stages several times during a night of sleep.

Learning more about the function and importance of deep sleep can help you get the most out of your nightly rest. We consider the benefits of this sleep stage, the risks associated with a lack of deep sleep, and tips for improving your sleep hygiene.

What Is Deep Sleep?

Deep sleep refers to stage 3 of non-rapid eye movement sleep. During this sleep stage, a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing slow until they reach their lowest levels of the night. Stage 3 sleep is a period of deep muscle relaxation and is often perceived by sleepers as the most refreshing and high quality portion of sleep.

Deep sleep is also called slow-wave or delta sleep, due to the characteristic brain waves that occur during this stage. Sleepers are often hardest to wake up during stage 3 sleep and, if awakened, may experience a period of mental fogginess called sleep inertia.

Initial periods of deep sleep last around 20 to 40 minutes at a time. Periods of deep sleep are usually longer early in the night, likely because a person’s need for rest is highest just after falling asleep. Until middle age, people spend about 10% to 20% of their total sleep time in deep sleep. The percentage of time spent in deep sleep decreases as a person gets older.

The Importance of Deep Sleep

Although scientists are still learning about the purpose and benefits of sleep, it’s clear that sleep impacts just about everything in the mind and body, from mood and immunity to overall health. Deep sleep in particular appears to provide a number of important health benefits.

  • Promotes feeling rested: Deep sleep is necessary to waking up feeling refreshed and renewed. This benefit may be related to deep sleep’s role in relieving the pressure to fall asleep, which builds during each waking hour.
  • Supports memory consolidation: Researchers believe that during deep sleep the brain recalls new information learned during waking hours and transfers it to long-term memory.
  • Heals damaged tissue: Deep sleep promotes the release of human growth hormone, which may support the development of muscle and other tissues in the body. Human growth hormone may also help the body regenerate cells and heal damaged tissue.
  • Fortifies the immune system: Hormonal changes during deep sleep enhance the immune system. In particular, these hormonal changes support the body’s ability to develop acquired immunity, remembering and better defending against specific pathogens.

What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Deep Sleep?

Although it can be challenging for researchers to differentiate the effects of losing deep sleep from sleep deprivation in general, studies have found several potential consequences of insufficient deep sleep.

  • Sleep inertia: Sleep inertia describes the feeling of grogginess, disorientation, or a reduction in performance that can occur after waking up. People who wake up during deep sleep may experience sleep inertia for 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Impared memory: Deep sleep plays an important role in forming long-term memories. Insufficient deep sleep may lead to forgetfulness and poor retention of memories.
  • Risk of diabetes: Insufficient deep sleep may increase the risk of diabetes through reducing insulin sensitivity, which describes how well cells are at absorbing blood sugar.
  • Hypertension: Blood pressure reaches its lowest point of the day during deep sleep. Losing deep sleep may increase the risk of high blood pressure, a medical condition called hypertension.
  • Mood changes: Early research suggests that a reduction in deep sleep may make it harder to maintain a positive mood during the day.

Reduced deep sleep can also contribute to poor overall sleep quality, which in turn can lead to additional symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as:

  • Difficulty focusing and staying alert
  • Irritability, frequent bad moods, and low energy
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Memory issues
  • Chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, obesity, and depression
  • Other issues at work, school, or in social settings

Signs You May Not Be Getting Enough Deep Sleep

Because deep sleep is closely tied to a person’s sleep drive, daytime sleepiness may be a sign of insufficient deep sleep. Daytime sleepiness may cause a person to drift off while riding in the car, watching TV, reading, or after meals.

Other effects of not getting enough deep sleep may mirror those seen in people with sleep deprivation. Everyone responds to a lack of sleep differently, but common signs of sleep deprivation include:

  • Difficulty focusing and paying attention
  • Trouble learning new things
  • Poor decision-making
  • Emotional problems
  • Difficulty remembering information
  • Tips for Getting More Deep Sleep

Although there are no guidelines for increasing deep sleep, taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene may improve sleep quality and support adequate deep sleep.

Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe healthy habits that may help you get better rest.

  • Exercise regularly: Exercise has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Working out might also increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep and improve the quality of deep sleep.
  • Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, preferably more than three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided close to bedtime, as they may reduce the amount of time spent in deep sleep.
  • Get sunlight exposure during the day: Exposure to light is important for maintaining healthy sleep patterns. Wake up with natural sunlight and lower the lights indoors before bedtime.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule: Going to bed and getting up at the same time, even on weekends, may help you sleep better. Avoid staying up too late, or trying to catch up on lost sleep by sleeping in.


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How to Sleep Deeper

Deep sleep is the stage of sleep your body needs the most


Deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, is the kind that helps you wake up feeling recharged. If that doesn’t sound like the mornings you’re used to, there are a few strategies for how to get more deep sleep that are worth trying:

  • Adjust the time you go to bed
  • Maintain a set sleep schedule once you do
  • Make changes to your habits and environment
  • Use prescription treatments, as recommended by your healthcare provider

This article reviews how to sleep deeper at night and why getting more deep sleep can benefit your overall physical and mental health.

What Is Deep Sleep?

Sleeping deep means getting more slow-wave sleep. This name comes from the slow brain waves, called delta waves, that the brain produces during this point in the sleep cycle.1

Slow-wave sleep is the deepest sleep stage. It is also called NREM Stage 3 sleep. This stage happens more in the first third of the night. It is very hard to wake someone when they are in the deep stage of sleep.

What Are the Stages of Sleep?

Sleep used to be divided into five stages and deep sleep was called stage 4. In 2007, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) changed the categories for sleep stages to:

  • NREM Stage 1
  • NREM Stage 2
  • NREM Stage 3
  • REM Sleep

How to Get More Deep Sleep

There are not that many ways to sleep deeper at night. That said, there are some strategies for getting deeper sleep that you can try.

Boost Your Sleep Drive

Being awake for a long time can enhance your homeostatic sleep drive—in other words, the longer you stay awake, the more you want to sleep. When you finally do sleep, you may sleep deeper.

This strategy is called sleep consolidation or sleep restriction. It’s been shown to be an effective way to treat insomnia.

Sleep restriction is used as part of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) programs. Sleep deprivation can lead to deeper periods of sleep.

Change Your Behaviors and Environment

Some research has looked at how our behaviors and environments affect sleep in general, but we don’t know as much about how these factors could help with deep sleep, specifically.

Overall, we know that exercise and daytime physical activity may help us sleep better, but we’re not sure about the timing of physical activity if we want to sleep deeper.

Other habits may help us sleep deeper at night. For example, taking a warm bath or shower about 90 minutes before you go to bed and having a cooler bedroom may also improve deep sleep.1

On the other hand, light, noise, and warmer temperatures can actually make it harder to sleep deeper.

Some researchers are looking at whether devices that give off electrical patterns, vibrations, sounds, or light could enhance deep sleep.5

For example, one headband and app on the market claims to improve deep sleep by changing your brain waves. While it’s been part of a NASA-funded study of sleep in astronauts, more research is needed to prove that it works.

Follow Your Internal Clock

Sleep happens according to a circadian pattern, or your “internal clock.”

You get more deep sleep earlier in the night. Irregular sleep interferes with the timing and can cause you to get less deep sleep.

To avoid messing up the timing, try to keep a regular sleep and wake schedule—including on the weekends.

Getting morning sunlight as soon as you wake up can also help because natural light is a cue for your circadian rhythm.

Talk to Your Provider About Treatments

Some medications and substances can make you sleep deeper, including:

  • Desyrel (trazodone) is an older antidepressant that is often used as a sleep aid. It appears to interact with compounds released during allergic reactions (histamines) which may increase deep sleep.
  • Marijuana may also enhance slow-wave sleep.
  • Lithobid (lithium), a medication for bipolar disorder, may have a similar effect and is sometimes prescribed to treat sleep disorders.

Do Any Sleep Medications Not Affect Deep Sleep?

There are also some sleep aids that do not seem to impact deep sleep one way or another. These non-benzodiazepine sleep aids include:

  • Ambien, Zolpimist, Edluar (zolpidem)
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Sonata (zaleplon)

Do I Really Need to Sleep Deeper at Night?

If you feel like you want to sleep deeper, you may not know where to start or how much more deep sleep you should try to get.

People of different ages spend different amounts of time in deep sleep. For example:

  • School-aged kids and teens need to spend 20% to 25% of their sleep time in deep sleep
  • Adults need to spend 16% to 20% of their sleep time in deep sleep
  • Studies have found people spend less time in deep sleep as they get older.
  • However, men tend to have a much sharper decrease in deep sleep as they get older compared to women.

Why Can’t I Sleep Deeper at Night?

There are several reasons that you might not be getting enough deep sleep.

  • Weakened sleep drive. Taking naps or spending too much time in bed can weaken your sleep drive. You may lose some of your ability to sleep normally, and as a result, you may get less deep sleep.
  • Sleep disorders. Some sleep disorders can affect your ability to sleep deeper at night. For example, people with sleep apnea frequently stop breathing while they are sleeping and people with periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS) involuntarily move their legs while asleep. These disruptions can reduce deep sleep, but effectively treating them will help normalize sleep.
  • Substance use and medications. Caffeine, benzodiazepines, and opioid pain medications can all affect deep sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that can reduce deep sleep even hours after you consume it (for example, in a cup of coffee or tea). Benzodiazepines like Valium and opioid pain medications can also reduce deep sleep.




The links above are affiliate links, so I receive a small commission every time you use them to purchase a product. The content contained in this video, and its accompanying description, is not intended to replace viewers’ relationships with their own medical practitioner. Always speak with your doctor regarding the content of this channel, and especially before using any products, services, or devices discussed on this channel or website.

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