Sleep is self care. We cut out a number of hours a night to nurture this wellness routine because it's essential to our health. But there are so many factors that can keep us from achieving deep sleep. Thankfully there are signs you're not getting deep sleep (even if you slept eight hours). Identifying them could help you finally get the rest you need.
Spoiler alert: you probably shouldn't sleep with your phone. The blue light your electronics radiate are notorious for disturbing your sleep cycle. Dr. Michael J. Breus, PhD, known as The Sleep Doctor, relates seven other factors that could be keeping you from entering the stages of deeper sleep. Dr. Breus tells Bustle, "Alcohol, while it may make a person feel sleepy, it actually keeps them out of the deeper stages of sleep." Other reasons you might not be getting deep sleep according to Dr. Breus include caffeine, heat, disruptions by a bed partner, recreational drugs, medications, or a sleep disorder.
What you're hoping to reach is level three or four of sleep. "Stages three and four of sleep, also known as deep sleep or delta sleep account for 20 percent of total sleep time in young adults," Dr. Breus says. "Delta sleep is the deepest level of NREM sleep and usually occurs during the first third of the night." And when you don't get it, you likely won't feel great. Here's how to tell if you're not entering this deep sleep, according to experts.
1. You're Physically Exhausted
Fell asleep at 10 p.m. like a responsible adult only to wake up at 7 a.m. and feel like you need another round? If you're energy is low after a solid eight hours, that physical exhaustion could indicate that you're not entering delta sleep. "During this stage, your body heals itself and you experience metabolic and tissue regeneration; this is the physical restoration stage of sleep," Dr. Breus says. "When you get enough delta or deep sleep, you awake refreshed and ready to meet the day." If you literally cannot tear yourself from your down duvet, you probably didn't enter a deep sleep.
2. You're Unable To Organize Thoughts
Deep sleep is also imperative for restoring your mental strength. Long days of juggling work and a myriad of modern responsibilities means your mind is getting a serious workout. Simple shut-eye just won't cut it. You have to at least hit the REM stage of sleep. "This is the mental restoration stage of sleep," Dr. Breus says. "When you get enough REM sleep, you think more quickly and creatively and are able to organize your thoughts better." If you're feeling sluggish after eight hours of sleep, you might not have entered REM. If this happens consistently to you, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
3. You're Snapping
You know those days where you just can't even? It's probably because your mind didn't completely get a break when your eyes shut and you drifted to dreamland. Erin Stokes, ND, and medical director at MegaFood explains to Bustle, "Mental fogginess and an inability to focus can be signs that you're not sleeping deeply at night. Another common sign is a 'short fuse' where you feel irritated easily because you aren't experiencing restorative sleep." If you're feeling unusually snippy, it could mean you need a better night's sleep. Try sleeping with your phone in another room.
4. Your Reaction Time Is Slow
Not entering a deep sleep could potentially be dangerous. Certified sleep consultant, Julia Walsh of Good Night Sleep Site tells Bustle, "If you are not getting enough deep sleep the body will try to replenish that first, and then REM sleep doesn't happen as much. Without REM sleep your memory and learning capabilities are reduced. Slower reaction time than normal (i.e. when driving) [can result]." If things are taking a little longer than usual to register, you need better quality sleep.
5. You're Having Difficulties With Memory
Out the window with reaction time is also your memory. You could have totally blanked on where you set your keys or if the deadline for that application to graduate school was today or last Wednesday. Walsh explains, "As REM sleep restores memory and assists with reaction time, if your body seems slow to react or very forgetful (more than normal) you may not be getting enough deep sleep at night."
6. You May Be Getting Sick
It's not about the quantity of sleep, but the quality of it. One way to tell if you're not getting enough deep sleep is if you're constantly feeling sick. "The most damaging effects of lack of sleep occur from inadequate deep sleep," Walsh says. "Deep sleep plays a major role in maintaining your health, repairing muscles and tissues, boosting your immune system and stimulating growth and development." Of course, if you're feeling ill, it's always a good idea to check in with your doctor.
Deep sleep is essential to how we function. But even if you're snoozing for eight hours straight, you might not be entering those deep stages of sleep. Be aware of how your body and mind are reacting the next day to tell if you're snoozing hard or hardly snoozing. If problems persist, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to see if there are any medical conditions keeping you from entering deep sleep.