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Are You Sleep-Misbehaving? How To Get More Deep Sleep

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Photo via Getty Images

I’ve never been a great sleeper, so when we decided to do a post on how to get more deep sleep, I figured I’m as good a candidate as anybody.  

I’m not alone. According to Penn Medicine, more than 60 million Americans have problems with sleep. That’s a lot of cranky.

That’s why I consulted some sleep experts on how to get the best deep sleep — the sleep that occurs when you’re not dreaming, a.k.a. non-REM sleep (The sleep cycle is 1. light sleep (5%) 2. deeper sleep (45%) 3. Deepest sleep (24%) 4. REM (25%).

Jeff Kahn is the CEO and co-founder of Rise Science (makers of the sleep and energy tracker app RISE). The first thing he told me was that all sleep stages of sleep support your health and wellbeing, and there’s not a lot you can do to control how long you stay in each stage every night.

He also told me sleep trackers that claim to track sleep stages are pretty inaccurate. “You shouldn’t rely on them to know how much REM or deep sleep you’re getting or worry if your tracker says you’re not getting enough,” he said. “Because of this, it will also be difficult to know if any changes you make to support potentially getting more deep sleep are actually leading to you getting more of it.”

Good caveat!

Read more below for more tips and science about getting deeper sleep.

 


FluffCo Cooling Pillows

I have been on a mission to find the right bedding. I have been using these FluffCo cooling pillows and cooling pillow cases for the past two weeks and almost every night my husband gives me the “how expensive are these pillows and pillows cases?” look when he gets into bed. We do enjoy the hotel comfort, and I appreciate the softness (firm pillows are not for me). Another plus for me was that they wash beautifully!

How to Get More Deep Sleep
FluffCo | Luxury Hotel Cooling Pillows

Buy at the FluffCo Store

 

ApriaDirect CPAP Mask

A full-face CPAP mask covers both the nose and mouth, providing optimal comfort and seal for patients who breathe through their mouth or have facial hair. There are masks for different face shapes and sizes, as well as mask parts and accessories to help you get the most out of your sleep apnea therapy.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
ApriaDirect | Philips Respironics Amara Full Face Mask with Headgear

Buy at Apria Direct


The key to understanding REM and deep sleep 

Jeff Kahn, CEO and co-founder of Rise Science, said that getting enough sleep overall is the key to getting more deep sleep — the most restful sleep in the sleep cycle. People think REM is the most restful sleep, but it’s not. “Meeting your full nightly sleep need allows you to spend enough time in deep sleep in the first half of the night and enough time in REM sleep in the second,” he said.

While we get some deep sleep as part of each cycle, Kahn said we get much more of it in the second half of the night, as the time we spend in deep sleep increases with each cycle. So, if you don’t sleep for long enough, your body won’t get to spend as much time as it would like to in deep sleep. This I understand! 

Apparently, our brains are very good at allotting the right amount of time in each sleep stage — “but only if you set it up for healthy, continuous, regularly-timed sleep,” said Kahn.

That means we need the right sleep hygiene behaviors. 

Is night exercise a sleep disruptor?

If you tell me that not going to the gym is a “sleep misbehavior,” then I’m one bad cookie. I don’t have time during the day. 

I asked Jeff Kahn if exercising at night before bed is OK. “Exercise, generally at any time you can, is great for healthy sleep,” he said. “Late exercise has been vilified when it comes to sleep, but the only kind of exercise you should avoid is anything of the highest intensity, performed in maximally bright light, right before bed.”

After a hard workout, you’ll have more energy, both physically and mentally, as it raises vital signs such as your pulse and temperature, and kicks up hormones such as adrenaline and endorphins — not great as you prepare for bed.

But light and low-intensity exercise is fair game — slower, relaxing exercise like restorative or slow flow yoga or stretching and meditation are good wind-down routines before bed. They help to reset the body and get it ready for sleep and relaxation. Foam rolling may be good to work out tight muscles and help you relax. 

“Anything that relaxes you,” said Kahn. “Reading, meditating, or taking a warm bath can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.”

 


Leap Health’s Stretch & Flexibility at Home App

Stretching is sort of the lazy person’s workout. I know, because I’m a stretch master, and it does reduce muscle tension and enhance flexibility and range of motion. Leap Health has a range of apps for iPhone that help with yoga, pilates, BMI calculators, step trackers (annoying — but helpful). It’s really the most natural way to decrease fatigue, stress, and improve sleep.

How To Get More Deep Sleep

Buy at Apple App Store

 

Hotel Collection Home Scent Diffuser 

Using cold-air diffusion technology to convert fragrance oil into a dry nano-mist, this scent diffuser comes in a variety of sizes: for small intimate spaces 600 – 800 sq feet; to medium space 1,200 – 1,600 sq. ft; and large whole home scenting from 3,000 – 6,000 sq. ft . Fragrance oils without the use of heat or water. Buy now and save up to 50% off sitewide.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Hotel Collection | Studio Wireless Pro Scent Diffuser

Shop at Hotel Collection

Sonu: Mattress for Side Sleepers

Hey side sleepers: A chiropractor from Sonu named Dr. James Hogan said of this mattress: “It relieves repetitive stress patterns at my shoulder girdle and greatly reduces excessive twisting and torquing at my thoracolumbar junction area.” Whoa! Say no more! Allow your arms to rest where they should be with this patented Comfort Channel and Support Pillow system

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Sonu Sleep | The Sonu Sleep System Hybrid Mattress

Buy at Sonu Sleep


What foods should we avoid so we can sleep better?


I asked Said Dr. Monique May, medical advisor at Aeroflow Sleep and board-certified licensed family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience, about what foods we should avoid in order to get better sleep.

“Foods can disrupt sleep due to their effect either on the brain (stimulation) or the body (for example, heartburn). Foods (and beverages) that cause the former include caffeine (tea, coffee, soda), alcohol, and chocolate,” she said. “Some people find that sugary snacks are stimulating for them as well.”

Foods that can cause acid reflux: spicy or greasy foods, peppermint, alcohol, caffeine, soda, and acidic foods (tomatoes, onions, garlic, and citrus).

Salty foods can cause fluid retention, which in turn can lead to increased urination at night, disrupting sleep from the frequent trips to the bathroom.

Large meals of any kind right before bed may harm sleep due to stomach discomfort or bloating, and should be eaten at least three hours before bed, if at all.

What’s the worst food or drink for sleeping? 

Alcohol. Simple as that, at least according to Dr. Michael Gradisar, PhD and head of sleep science at Sleep Cycle. “When we’ve analyzed data altogether from several different sources, to our surprise, one of the worst things for your sleep is alcohol.
The effect on sleep was much bigger than the effects from using technology close to bedtime.”

Dr. Gradisar said that new research is showing that there are actually some deep sleep benefits after the first few nights of drinking alcohol. “There’s evidence if alcohol consumption continues for the week, then virtually all aspects of sleep start to suffer,” he said. “Even deep sleep. But REM sleep is certainly sensitive to the effects of alcohol consumption.”

The sleep scientists at Sleep Cycle ran a study evaluating over 1,000 people who reduced their alcohol consumption over a 30-day period, and what they found was surprising.

“The decline in insomnia symptoms was equivalent to the online form of cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia — the gold standard treatment for insomnia,” said Dr. Gradisar. “It goes to show how much of an influence alcohol has on our sleep.”

 


Headspace: Be Kind To Your Mind 

Get more restful sleep by finding your perfect bedtime routine with hours of relaxing music, sounds, bedtime stories, and exercises. At Headspace you’ll have access to an entire library of meditations, sleep sounds, yoga and fitness, and focus music.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Headspace | Meditation and mindfulness for any mind, any mood, and goal

Buy at Headspace

 

Medify MA-112 Air Purifier with True HEPA H13 Filter

There are tons of air purifiers on the market. I have a 10-year-old with allergies, and come springtime it affects his sleep. The Medify Air Purifier can filter out allergens and pollutants, and the air is noticeably cleaner — not that difficult to do, perhaps, in a New York City apartment. It has created a cleaner and fresher sleeping environment, and its filter alert is active, a problem I’ve had in the past with Germ Guardian.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Medify | MA-112 Air Purifier with True HEPA H13 Filter

Buy at the Medify Air Store 

 

Let’s Cuddle Weighted Blanket 

This blanket is made from recycled plastic bottles. I’ve not heard of another weighted blanket that’s sourced that way. The recycled plastic is spun into toxin-free cotton, and comes in 10, 15 or 20 pound versions. I have a toddler with sensory issues and the 10 pound blanket has been a godsend. When everybody in the house is sleeping, there’s better mental health, memory, and focus.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Let’s Cuddle | The Cuddler in Snow

Buy at Let’s Cuddle



Do we really need to turn off the laptop/phone in bed?

There’s a variety of opinion about this, so choose wisely: 

It depends: Said Jeff Kahn: “It depends. Here, it’s less about the dangers of blue light before bed (an earlier vilification of screens) and much more about what you’re doing on that laptop. If you’re watching your favorite cooking show that calms you and makes you feel good before bed — and the lights are low, and you’ve gotten a lot of bright natural light in the morning and throughout the day — your laptop can be part of a relaxing bedtime routine.”

If you’re answering stressful work emails, watching a cliff-hanging thriller, playing a multi-person video game, multi-tasking with yet another smaller screen, the list goes on, these are all activities that will rev you up (pre-sleep cognitive arousal) that will have the opposite effect of winding down for restorative sleep, pushing your bedtime back, and cutting into your deep sleep.

Yes: Said Dr. Monique May, medical advisor at Aeroflow Sleep and board-certified licensed family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience.”The blue light from screens (phones, laptops, and tablets) disrupts sleep because it makes your brain think it is still daytime. In response, the brain stops making the hormone melatonin, a natural sleep aid made by the body. It is recommended not only to keep digital devices out of the bed, but to also stop using them at least one hour before your bedtime.”

No and yes: Said Dr. Dr. Michael Gradisar, PhD and head of sleep science at Sleep Cycle: “I’d certainly encourage a passive activity on a laptop, like watching a streaming service, because not only can it be relaxing and enjoyable, but there’s also scientific evidence to show that even watching a cliffhanger episode won’t be detrimental to your sleep. But I don’t see the point of working on emails in bed.”

 


BAM! Books-A-Million Meditation Books

Meditation has become my secret weapon for a restful night’s sleep. Books-A-Million has a catalogue of books on various forms of meditation, which sets the stage for a peaceful transition into sleep — until my eight-year-old wakes me up.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
BAM! Books-a-Million | Meditation Is by Bodel Rikys

Buy at Books-A-Million 

 

AprikaLife Herbal Tea

A blend of herbs designed for relaxation, to prep for some shuteye — 60 bags. Includes lemon balm leaves for effective calming, chamomile flowers for relaxation, and peppermint leaves with a soothing menthol scent.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Newegg | AprikaLife Calm and Relax Herbal Tea

Buy at NewEgg


 

Are some sleep aids better than others?

I spoke to Dr. Monique May, medical advisor at Aeroflow Sleep and board-certified licensed family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience, and she told me that proper sleep hygiene includes not only keeping a set sleep and wake schedule (even on the weekends), but also creating the ideal environment for a good night’s sleep.

  • Keeping the room somewhat cool
  • Blocking out light
  • Eliminating noise

“Using black-out shades to keep out bright light are probably better than blinds that may have gaps or holes in them that allow sunlight to enter the room,” she said. 

“Noise-cancelling devices like white noise machines (or simply tuning a radio between stations and letting the static play) promote sounder sleep by blocking or covering up outside noises, and may help with chronic ear-ringing, a medical condition called tinnitus.”

There are also apps available that play white noise and other “noise colors” such as green, which sounds like the ocean.

“Ear plugs and cushioned sleep masks with padding around the eyes block out even more noise and light, respectively.”


Bambusi Bathtub Caddy Tray 

This caddy is crafted from water-resistant bamboo and extends to fit any smart propping to large size tub. Features scooped cellphone tray, built-in wine glass holder, extending sides, props up book, laptop or tablet and made of 100% organic bamboo.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Bed Bath & Beyond | Bambusi Bathtub Caddy Tray with Extending Sides, Reading Stand, Wine Holder & Cellphone Tray

Buy at Bed Bath & Beyond

Iliacus & Psoas Release Tool Back Massager

This self massage tool only looks dangerous! It targets the iliopsoas muscle in the hips, known for causing back pain — and sleepless nights. With an 80-degree tilted tip, its round bottom design allows left and right movement to activate the parasympathetic nerve.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Soas Store | soas Iliopsoas Massager – Iliacus & Psoas Release Tool Back Massager

Buy at Soas Store

 

Snowe Down comforter 

Snowe comforters have loops in all 4 corners so you can keep your duvet cover in place. The lightweight option is best for those who sleep warm; All-Season is best for customers who are consistently cold at night and crave a little extra weight.

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Snowe | Best Seller Down Comforter

Buy at Snowe

Dokdogs Human Dog Bed 

Who doesn’t love dozing with the family dog? Here’s a new way to enjoy better rest and napping. You can relax, sleep, take a nap, read a book, play cellphones in the human size dog bed for people.

Amazon | Dokdogs Store

How To Get More Deep Sleep
Amazon | Dokdogs Human Dog Bed for Adults and Your Dog

Buy at Amazon

 


 

Why is watching horror movies before bed a bad idea?

I asked Sarah Bossio, the owner and certified pediatric sleep expert of New Jersey-based Your Zen Baby Sleep, who told me that any type of blue light from screens up to an hour before bedtime can affect our body’s circadian rhythms, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

“Then you add the excitement of watching horror movies,” she said. “The plot lines likely increase your stress levels, cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones are the exact opposite of the hormones we want to be producing before sleeping (melatonin and adenosine). When the brain perceives excess cortisol and adrenaline levels, its survival system kicks on and will reduce sleepy hormones.”

Of course, horror movies can be a catalyst for nightmares. “I strongly recommend not allowing children to watch scary films before bedtime and also encourage adults to tread cautiously when selecting your next Netflix binge.”

 

Two most important activities for healthy sleep

“Daytime activities, including some form of physical activity and getting doses of natural light — those are the two most important things,” said Dr. Dr. Michael Gradisar, PhD and head of sleep science at Sleep Cycle. “Even if the weather ain’t great, being undercover outside is healthier than staying inside all day.”


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