Many people boast about how much sleep they get per night, but what they often ignore is the quality of that sleep.
While getting your nightly 8 hours is certainly critical, so is experiencing all the sleep cycle stages, which includes light sleep, slow wave sleep, and REM sleep. While light sleep makes up almost half of our total sleep per night, it is slow wave sleep and REM sleep that are most beneficial for cleansing and restoring our bodies.
In this article, we offer 3 ways to avoid excessive light sleep, starting with a brief overview of this initial stage of sleep.
What is Light Sleep?
Light sleep is a transitional phase of sleep characterized by higher frequency brain waves. In the traditional 4 stage model of sleep, light sleep composes the first two stages and typically features alpha waves and theta waves.
It is marked by a decrease in body temperature and muscle tension when compared to waking consciousness, as the body begins to prepare for the deeper REM sleep and slow wave sleep on the horizon.
Dreaming does occur during light sleep, but it is considerably less cohesive and imaginative then dreaming that occurs during REM sleep.
Additionally, while light sleep helps with memory consolidation and integrating the experiences from the day, the depth of these processes pales in comparison to the processes associated with slow wave sleep, which is considered the densest, most restorative stage of sleep.
When people stay in light sleep too much throughout the night, they are likely to wake up feeling groggy and fatigued the next morning, as the body did not restore itself on a deep level.
Avoid Electronics Before Sleep
Scientists are beginning to study the blue light that is emitted from many electronics, and they are uncovering that this wavelength of light can disrupt our circadian rhythms. This makes it harder to fall asleep, which can bring a host of negative effects.
In particular, when it takes a while to fall asleep, we are more likely to ruminate on the day, which can lead to anxiety. This can keep us from ever fully entering deeper levels of sleep, which are preceded by light sleep.
Instead, we just hover on the surface of our minds, drifting in and out of consciousness as we circle through our various problems and worries.
This is quite common among teenagers and young adults who frequently use social medial platforms before bed. These networks promote a constant comparison between the user and the rest of world, which highlights certain inadequacies and insufficiencies in the user’s life.
In addition, many people even like to fall asleep listening to music, which can prevent you from entering deeper levels of sleep, which are characterized by lower frequency brain waves. When sleep is disrupted in any way, the entire sleep cycle is affected.
Many studies have shown that inhibition of REM sleep in the beginning of the night can lead to increased levels later in the night as the body tries to make up for the loss. Yet, this later REM sleep is more inefficient, as it represents the body trying to cram in everything that it needs before waking.
Exercise Intensely During the Day
While any exercise certainly promotes healthy sleep patterns, intense exercise exhausts the body and necessitates deep sleep for recovery.
Thus, if you are historically a light sleeper, one way to remedy this is to make it almost impossible for you to stay in the light sleep stage.
The best way to achieve this is to engage in anaerobic exercise, which typically involves short bursts of high-intensity movements alternated with periods of rest. This will elevate your heart rate and put a tremendous strain on your muscles, and deep sleep will be needed for proper recovery.
Avoid Sleep Medications if Possible
When we can’t get enough sleep or are getting excessive light sleep, we often resort to instant fixes to lessen our symptoms. One popular technique is to take sleeping pills, which are sedatives that induce sleep.
When we take these, we rarely wake up throughout the night, which causes us to think that we slept well. Yet, after prolonged periods of usage, these sleep aids actually interfere with melatonin production, which disturbs our natural circadian rhythms.*
Melatonin is an important hormone that is involved in regulating not only when we feel sleepy but the depth of sleep that we get. This is why melatonin therapy is often recommended for people with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.
Essentially, by increasing our melatonin levels, we can increase the amount of REM sleep we get, which allows for optimal recovery.
*”The information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, treatment and diagnosis.”
Our Final Thoughts on Light Sleep and Stages of Sleep
All stages of the sleep cycle are crucial for proper health. Thus, when any one stage is overemphasized, it interferes with the entire cycle and results in less than optimal restoration.
Light sleep is critical as a transitional phase, but if we only get light sleep, or get too much of it, then our bodies cannot integrate our experiences from the day. This means our cognitive performance is affected as well as our cellular cleansing, both of which are crucial for balance.
Feature image via TecHome Builder