Few things come close to being as exasperating as not getting a good full night’s sleep. A snoring partner, a crying baby, the driver that just had to honk his way through the street – all adding to the fragmented sleep experienced by a light sleeper. It’s not fun being a light sleeper. They easily react to changes or disturbances in their sleeping environment, be it smell, sound or light. Now, scientists still don’t know why some people are light sleepers and others aren’t, but they do know that the former, unfortunately, drift in and out of sleep through the night.
The problem with light sleepers isn’t just that they may wake up cranky the next morning. Poor sleep quality can make one feel sluggish and tired and even contribute to long-term health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Is it possible for a light sleeper to become a deep sleeper? The short answer is no. However, there are several science-backed tips that can help them get a good night’s sleep. Here are a few.
- Scientists aren’t sure why some people are light sleepers and others aren’t, but they do know that light sleepers drift in and out of sleep through the four stages,
- Sleep fragmentation is another term for disturbed sleep, and it is a huge contributor to daytime tiredness. Sleep spindles play a big role in sleep fragmentation,
- Sleep spindles assist with the memory consolidation process and potentially make the brain more resilient to disturbances such as noise. People who produce more sleep spindles are more likely to find it easier to sleep through these disturbances.
Causes of light sleeping
Sleep fragmentation is another term for disturbed sleep, and it is a huge contributor to daytime tiredness. Still, it’s not easy to determine what exactly causes it. Fragmented sleep can cause cognitive deficits over time, so it’s something that we ultimately want to avoid and even sleep does affect your metabolism.
Some of the factors thought to influence sleep fragmentation are
- Temporary night-time disturbances, for example, the sound of a baby crying,
- Brain wave activity during sleep,
- Undiagnosed sleep disorders, such as insomnia,
- Bedtime habits,
- Lifestyle choices.
To get a good night’s sleep, we need to get enough quality sleep between the light and deep sleep stages. Let’s take a look at those in a little more detail.
Stages of sleep
The variation between a light sleeper and a heavy sleeper is generally the amount of time each one spends in the deep sleep stage of their sleep cycle. Let’s understand these stages.
Stage 1: Non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM)
In the first stage of sleep, when someone starts to drift off, their heart rate, brain waves, breathing, and eye movements all start to slow and the muscles start to relax. This tends to last only a few minutes. This is also the easiest time to wake someone up.
Stage 2: Light sleep
In this second stage, the brain waves, heartbeat and breathing slow down further, while the eye movements stop completely. The core body temperature also cools, and the muscles continue to relax. This stage lasts somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes.
Stage 3: Slow-wave sleep (deep sleep)
At this stage, everything slows down to its lowest levels and deep sleep begins, making it more difficult to wake up.
Stage 4: Rapid eye-movement sleep (REM)
Here, the eyes move rapidly, usually starting around 90 minutes after the person first falls asleep. Dreaming takes place at this stage, when the heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure rise.
In the REM sleep stage, one’s brainwave activity is similar to how it is when one is awake.
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What are sleep spindles?
The term ‘sleep spindles’ refers to a specific brainwave pattern that takes place during sleep, typically during sleep stage 2 in humans. Sleep spindles can be measured by electroencephalography (EEG) technology, which measures electrical activity in the brain.
The EEG works by measuring levels of activity in different parts of the brain through around 20 electrodes that are attached to the scalp, which act as sensors. Those sensors send information to a machine through wires, and the machine uses that information to record the brain’s activity in the form of waves. These waves are then assessed for patterns and abnormalities.
Sleep spindles assist with the memory consolidation process and potentially make the brain more resilient to disturbances such as noise. One study found that people who produce more sleep spindles are more likely to find it easier to sleep through these disturbances. This may also explain why people over 60 are often lighter sleepers since we tend to produce fewer sleep spindles as we age.
Lower levels of sleep spindles are associated with several factors. These include:
- Aging, as already mentioned above,
- Chronic pain, although more research is required to establish this connection,
- Comas, as people in a coma, do not experience normal sleep stages,
- Dyslexia (a learning disorder), particularly in children,
- Epilepsy, although this is another area that needs more research,
- Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia,
- Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and anxiety,
- Strokes, depending on where the damage is.
Given the importance of sleep spindles when it comes to our sensory shutdown, learning and memory, and motor abilities, it is clear that they are an essential signifier of our general well-being. Therefore, light sleepers or those experiencing lower levels of sleep spindles should follow some of our science-backed tips to get a better night’s sleep.
Five science-backed tips for deep Sleep:
1. Follow a good sleep schedule: By creating a structured sleep schedule and incorporating it into a daily routine, one can witness an improvement in the quality of sleep each night. Following this sleep schedule through the week, including weekends, will help get one into the habit of going to sleep and rising at a particular hour each day. It is also important to limit naptime, which though rejuvenating, can reduce one’s sleep drive and make it more difficult to sleep at night. This holds true, especially for naps that last longer than 30 minutes.
2. Have a relaxing bedtime routine: Following a relaxing pre-bed routine in the 30 to 60 minutes before sleeping can be super helpful when it comes to getting a good night’s rest. By performing the same activities, in the same order, every night, one can help make their brain understand better when it is time to go to bed.
It’s important to note that the routine should only incorporate things that are calming and relaxing; don’t include anything that is stressful. Brushing teeth, putting on a face mask, and reading for 20 minutes before bed is all relaxing activities that will prepare you for a good night’s sleep.
3. Address distractions: If there are distractions that can be controlled within one’s sleep environment, it is crucial to address them for a better night’s sleep. Try ambient noise such as a white noise machine to help diffuse background noise, or use earplugs to block out the noise completely.
Keeping the room dark at night is also helpful, since our bodies gear toward being active when there is light. Consider adding blackout shades to windows or sleeping with an eye mask to really ensure darkness.
4. Improve sleep hygiene: Improving sleep hygiene is essential to getting a good night’s sleep. Some of the ways in which this can be done are: avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol for at least a few hours before bed, as these can be disruptive to proper sleep.
Avoiding electronics at least an hour before sleep is also important, and can be replaced with activities that relax the mind like journaling or meditation. It is also good to finish off the daily to-do list in the day itself, to avoid stress or distraction before sleeping at night.
5. Don’t spend the whole day in bed: According to experts, one of the worst things we can do while trying to improve sleeping habits is to spend time in bed when we’re not sleeping. By avoiding hanging out in bed all day, our brains will learn to associate bed with sleep, which will help to improve our sleeping habits. This is especially crucial during this period of work-from-home; carving out a separate workspace or working from a desk is always better.
There are a number of different reasons that people are light sleepers, and there is no conclusive answer as to why some people are while others aren’t. Sleep fragmentation is thought to be linked to lower levels of sleep spindles, which in turn are linked to factors including aging, epilepsy, and neurological disorders, among other factors. Five top tips for a better sleep routine include following a good sleep schedule, having a relaxing bedtime routine, addressing distractions, improving sleep hygiene, and not spending the whole day in bed. Following these science-backed tips can ensure a better night’s sleep for light sleepers everywhere.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention, or alleviation of any disease, disorder, or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.