What Makes a Heavy Sleeper?

Are you a light sleeper who gets up several times during the night, or a heavy sleeper who can’t understand why your weary partner complains about the neighbor’s barking dogs or your snoring? Even if you sleep alone, being a light or heavy sleeper can wreak havoc in your day-to-day living. Is this part of normal sleeping habits or symptoms of one of the many common sleep disorders?

If you’re a light sleeper, you may benefit from white noise, such as an environmental sound machine, to diffuse any external noise that could wake you up throughout the night. An air conditioner that produces a low-level hum can serve the same purpose too.

If you’re a heavy sleeper, who simply doesn’t hear noise as their light sleeper counterparts do, you may be better able to enjoy undisturbed sleep. However, if you are a heavy sleeper, it is easier for you to oversleep and miss or be late for important events. If this is problematic, set two alarm clocks, and if necessary, place one across the room from your bed so that you actively have to get up to turn it off.

Understanding Light and Deep Sleep

During sleep, you alternate between cycles of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). This cycle repeats about every 90 minutes. During the night, 75% of your time is in NREM sleep, which consists of four stages of increasing relaxation.

Stage one, also known as light sleep, is the phase between being awake and asleep. Deeper sleep begins in stage two, where your breath and heart rate become regular and your body temperature drops.

Stages three and four are the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep, in which breathing slows, muscles relax and tissue growth and repair occurs.

In general, young adults spend more time in deeper, heavier stages of sleep as they grow and develop. Older adults spend less time in deep sleep and more likely to awake at night.

But the difference between light and heavy sleepers is largely subjective. Someone who gets eight hours of sleep a night may not experience as much slow-wave, deep sleep as the same person who gets six hours of sleep.

How Does Light and Deep Sleep Work?

In a small study, published in 2010 in Current Biology, researchers described the relationship between how sleeping adults respond to noise and the levels of brain activity as sleep spindles. Researchers found that people whose brains produced the most high-frequency sleep spindles were more likely to sleep through loud noises. More research, however, needs to confirm these results.

If a person complains of feeling unrested because of light sleep, he or she should look at the factors that might be contributing to their inability to achieve deep sleep. A doctor may recommend a sleep study in a sleep lab to see if one of the many common sleep disorders are the underlying cause. Some common sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, can contribute to light sleep by causing frequent awakenings throughout the night because of breathing irregularities.

While it is hard to generalize about what makes some people light sleepers and others heavy sleepers, many factors under your own control affect the quality of sleep you get. Take a look at lifestyle, medication, alcohol, and caffeine for example.

Practicing healthy sleep habits – maintaining a regular sleep schedule, limiting caffeine and alcohol use, and sleeping in a quiet, dark and cool space – can all help foster a healthy sleep hygiene and deeper, heavier sleep.

Lifestyle Tips for Better Sleep Quality

For some people, falling asleep can be a difficult task and staying asleep can be even harder. If you categorize yourself as a light sleeper, these lifestyle changes can help you fall asleep and stay asleep during the night.

  • Drink Hot Water or Tea. Drinking warm to hot drinks such as tea or water have a wonderful calming effect. Stay away from caffeinated teas.
  • Stay Away from Heavy Meals and Alcohol. Being too full can make it harder to fall asleep because your body does not get the change to burn off the fat, causing the food to become stored fat. Alcohol may also make it easier to initially fall asleep, but can often lead to interrupted sleep.
  • Adjust Temperature of Room. One of the best ways to stay asleep throughout the night is to create a comfortable sleep environment. This starts with setting the temperatures to where it is not too hot or too cold, just comfortable.
  • Reduce Light. Make sure all lights are off or dimmed so the room is as dark as possible. If there are lights that cannot be turned off, wear a sleeping mask so that the lights do not bother you.
  • Reduce Outside Noise. If outside noises keep you up at night, try using an environmental sound machine or similar white noise device to diffuse any external sounds.
  • Stick to a Schedule. Regularity is sleep’s best friend. Try to adhere to a strict bedtime and wake time every day, even on the weekends. When your body has a routine, it knows when to start winding down and preparing for sleep.

Many common sleep disorders go unnoticed and untreated without the proper medical diagnosis. If sleep is something you struggle with on a nightly basis, do not hesitate to contact Sleep MD NYC for a consultation and path towards some much-needed restful shuteye.

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