The different stages of sleep play equally important parts to ensure you wake up fully rested and comfortable. Slow wave sleep comes after Stage 2 sleep, and occurs mostly in young children, slowly decreasing in frequency as we grow older.
So what exactly is slow wave sleep, and how do we know when we’re experiencing it?
To get an understanding of what slow wave sleep really is, it’s necessary to unpack the different stages of sleep, and how deep sleep can affect the overall quality of your rest.
Here’s everything you need to know about the stage of sleep responsible for everything from memory consolidation to muscle recovery:
One complete sleep cycle consists of four different sleep stages, each with its own vital role to play in proper, restorative rest. Broadly, the stages of sleep can be categorized as one of two types - NREM, or non-rapid eye movement sleep, which is also commonly known as quiet sleep, and REM, rapid-eye movement sleep, which is also known as active sleep. REM sleep is when you tend to do the bulk of your dreaming.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the sleep stages and their differing purposes:
Stage 1 (NREM) - We’re all too familiar with the delicate first few minutes of sleep. Stage 1 is considered more of a transitory stage, one that brings you from wakefulness to sleep. It is also the shortest stage, coming around to about five to ten minutes at most.
Stage 2 (NREM) - Once you move on to the second stage of sleep, your body temperature begins to drop, and both your breathing and heart rate become more regular. The American Sleep Foundation reports approximately 50% of most people’s total sleep is spent in this stage.
Stage 3 (NREM) - Known as deep sleep, or slow wave sleep, Stage 3 of the sleep cycle involves the body’s muscles relaxing further, and breathing rate to slow down. Slow wave sleep is when the deepest part of your sleep occurs - the American Sleep Foundation suggests only about 20% of your total sleep is spent in this stage.
REM - The final stage of sleep, also known as REM, first takes place about ninety minutes into your sleep cycle. Called rapid-eye movement sleep for a reason, this stage involves your brain waves becoming more active, and your breathing and heart rate increasing. Most dreaming occurs during this phase.
So what exactly makes slow wave sleep different from the other stages of sleep, and why is that important? During slow wave sleep, glucose metabolism that exists in your brain increases - this is what ensures you’re building a stronger short-term as well as long-term memory.
Slow wave sleep is also the stage responsible for energy restoration, cell regeneration, and boosting the immune system. The benefits of deep sleep are far-reaching - though brain activity during slow wave sleep is actually reduced, there is some evidence that suggests deep sleep contributes to insightful thinking and creativity as well.
In fact, slow wave sleep is so important, depriving your body of the right amounts can actively cause harm to your well-being. Not getting the right amount of slow wave sleep has been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and even strokes.
There is no set requirement for deep sleep, and as we grow older, our need for longer periods of rest reduces naturally. That being said, there are a couple of different ways you can ensure you’re setting yourself up for success, and a comfortable night of rest.
- Invest In The Best Mattress For Your Rest. It can be pretty surprising to learn just how many people compromise on the quality of their mattress or sleep on the same one for decades. The average mattress holds up for around eight years, and better quality ones might give you a couple extra to add on that.
- Maintain Healthy Sleep Hygiene Habits. Certain habits and practices can help prolong the duration and quality of your sleep at night. To ensure you achieve the best quality sleep for you, apply habits like staying caffeine-free, incorporating a little exercise into your daily routine, and reading instead of scrolling through your phone right before bed.
- Give Yourself Plenty Of Time. The stages of sleep do not take place chronologically, and deep sleep takes up only about 13% of your sleep cycle as a whole. So it stands to reason the less time you give yourself to sleep, the more you deprive your body of its chance to enter truly deep sleep. Make sure you’re giving yourself at least eight hours every night for a good night’s sleep.
Ultimately, finding your sweet spot and making sure you’re getting enough sleep, slow wave or otherwise, is crucial for a sense of balance and well-being. With the right sleep hygiene habits and the best mattress for the job, you’re going to find it much easier to wake up energized and ready to take on the day ahead of you.