Stress is an inevitable part of modern human life. As per the American Institute of Stress, over half of the American population report feeling stressed during the day. Stress affects different age groups differently, and studies also indicate it may affect women more than men. Virtually everyone is affected by stress to some degree or the other, but unfortunately, very few people seem to know how to effectively cope and manage stress.
If you were to Google something to the effect of “how to manage stress”, you are going to bump up against innumerable lists that start off with “exercise” and “meditation.” While the positive effects of exercise and meditation on stress are indisputable, the importance of a good night’s sleep seldom receives the attention it deserves. Sometimes, it goes completely unmentioned.
Deep Sleep and Stress – Cause and Effect
A study published by UC Berkeley has shed light on the relation between sleep and stress, specifically – deep sleep. Long story short, non-rapid eye movement sleep (AKA deep sleep) is the type of sleep most suited to battle stress, it is a natural anxiolytic (impedes anxiety). Every time your body and mind enters the state of deep sleep, your brain literally rewires itself and resets stress and anxiety levels in the process.
This entire process is cyclical and continuous. Therefore, you need deep sleep every night. It is not a one – time solution by any means. Miss out on one night of deep sleep and you miss out on the reset, resulting in stress and anxiety levels shooting up without resistance until your next bout of deep sleep.
Additionally, we must be mindful of the fact that one of the symptoms of stress itself is insomnia. Essentially, being stressed could result in not being able to sleep deeply and missing out on deep sleep spikes stress, a vicious, self-feeding frenzy.
With this new information, we can begin to perceive the vital importance of getting deep sleep when it comes to stress management. Even if you check all the other boxes such as exercise, meditation, music, etc. you simply cannot get a grip over your stress and anxiety if you are missing out on quality sleep.
What Exactly Is Deep Sleep and How Can We Get It?
Unfortunately, you cannot order deep sleep in a bottle on Amazon, at least not yet. So, what is deep sleep and how do we get it?
Sleep is broadly classified into two categories, namely, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. During REM sleep, your eyes dart from side to side rapidly and this is the stage of sleep where you dream. During this stage, your heart beat and breathing is on the higher side and sometimes even irregular. This is NOT deep sleep.
Non-REM sleep comes in 4 stages as you go from being awake to a state of restfulness. Stage 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep are considered deep sleep. It is estimated the only 13 – 23 percent of your total sleep accounts for deep sleep, even though 75% of sleep is non-REM sleep.
This all fine and dandy, but how do we practically know if we are getting enough deep sleep? Well, a general rule of thumb is – if you wake up and still feel exhausted, it likely means you did not get enough deep sleep.
Does waking up and feeling tired ring a bell? A lot of us are in the same boat. So, let’s look into what we can do to turn this boat around and get better sleep.
To begin with, we cannot only get deep sleep even if we wanted to. The body simply hasn’t evolved that way. Therefore, in order to get more deep sleep, we should just focus on getting better quality sleep in general and the body will do its bit and get you the deep sleep you need.
Tips for Sleeping Better
If you were to Google something along the lines of “Tips for better sleep”, you are going to be bombarded with mantras of lavender oil and not looking at your phone before bed. While the effects of blue light on melatonin suppression are well documented, you probably already know you shouldn’t be peering into a bright screen before bedtime. So, here are two tips that you may not already know, and which may prove to be the missing piece of the puzzle in your pursuit for deep sleep.
The 4, 7, 8 Breathing Technique
Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds. Repeat at least four times while trying to fall asleep. The more cycles you do, the more effective.
It is estimated that a staggering 75% of Americans do not get their RDA of Magnesium. Magnesium has a calming effect on your body and if taken 1 to 2 hours before bed, it can support quality sleep. Unfortunately, the soils that our crops grow in these days are depleted of several minerals, including magnesium. Consult your doctor about supplementing with magnesium for sleep and recovery.
Create a Sleeping Schedule
Ideally, you should aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and go to bed around the same time. Even on weekends when many us tend to have drastically different sleeping schedules, you should make an effort not to deviate from your weekday schedule by more than an hour.
Depriving your body of deep sleep, although sometimes unavoidable, is bound to result in increased stress as well as unwanted consequences to your health. If you want to address your stress, then improving your sleeping habits is a great place to start.
- Ben Simon, E., Rossi, A., Harvey, A.G. et al. Overanxious and underslept. Nat Hum Behav 4, 100–110 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0754-8
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. 2, Sleep Physiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19956/