A regular sleep cycle includes many different parts, but deep sleep (also known as delta sleep) is the most important. Deep sleep has a number of beneficial effects on the body, all of which contribute towards rest and repair.

When you’re in a state of deep sleep, your body can flush itself of toxins, replace cells, and heal wounds. Understanding the importance of deep sleep is important for those who suffer from insomnia or light sleeping – so how much deep sleep do you need and how can you ensure that you get it?

Stages of sleep

There are several stages of sleep and a person usually passes through each stage to complete a sleep cycle. A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 minutes to 110 minutes, and each stage tends to last between 5 and 15 minutes in length.

Stage One

Stage one of sleep is the act of falling asleep – the first stage of rest. This stage is sometimes called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and it is generally believed to be dreamless.

Stage Two

Stage two of sleep is when the muscles begin to relax, and at this stage, although it is still considered light sleep, the sleeper is more difficult to wake. As activity slows, body temperature decreases.

Stages Three & Four

Here, the sleeper enters deep sleep – these are two of the most valuable parts of the cycle. The body begins to restore itself, and it is difficult to be woken.

REM Sleep

This is the deepest stage of the cycle, where most of the important bodily repair work is done by your cells. During the rapid eye movement (REM) part of the sleep cycle, you’re likely to dream – although you may not always remember your dreams when you wake up.

How much deep sleep do we need?

How much deep sleep each person needs relies on numerous factors, including age, health issues, body composition, diet and activity levels. Because of this, there are no real specific guidelines as to how much deep sleep is needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Generally, adults need more deep sleep than the elderly, and children need more than adults. Current advice from the National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers should have 8-10 hours of total sleep, adults should have 7-9 hours and elderly people should have 7-8 hours.

Most sources say that these hours break down roughly into 50% light sleep, 25% deep sleep, and 25% REM sleep, meaning an adult should be getting around 2 hours of deep sleep and 2 hours of REM sleep each night

Bad sleeping habits can break up your sleeping pattern and interfere with the nightly sleep cycle. Napping may not always a bad thing. If you decide to have a long nap and set an alarm, you may often be woken up during REM sleep – meaning that you feel groggy and drowsy for hours afterwards. However, if you choose to have a 20-minute nap, you could experience improved alertness, enhanced performance and a better mood.

How to get more deep sleep

There are several ways in which you could invest in getting a better night’s sleep. Choosing a good mattress that is perfect for your sleep position, height and weight is a good place to start.

Many people also find that creating an environment that is conducive to sleep is an excellent way of encouraging your sleep cycle. Wall colours, light level and noise are all factors that can be altered for your own benefit. Choose a calming colour scheme, black out blinds and double glazing or thick curtains for the best sleep environment.

You could also keep a bedtime routine that relaxes you and gets you ready for sleep. Try burning lavender essential oils and doing slow and mindful yoga movements. Choosing to charge your mobile phone in another room and utilising an alarm clock instead could also help to prevent you from being distracted whilst trying to sleep.

Food and drinks that contain caffeine, alcohol and sugar can make it significantly harder to fall asleep. Change your bedtime cup of tea for a decaf and minimise any snacks before bed.