Understanding Light Sleep: How to Become a Better Sleeper

author

Thomas Crawshaw - September 20, 2019 Tom is Happy Beds' sleep and lifestyle content writer. A Creative and Professional Writing graduate, he loves all things Disney, horror films and looking after his family of African Land Snails.

Understanding Light Sleep: How to Become a Better Sleeper

You can either sleep through anything - sirens, bangs, the TV on full blast because your other half wants to watch just one more episode - or you wake up at the slightest noise. I’m an extremely light sleeper, the bedroom has to be pitch black, silent and extremely still for me to drift off; it’s always been something that’s annoyed me. 

Waking up even a couple of times a night can impact the length and quality of our sleep. Even if we wake up for a couple of minutes, we then have to calm our bodies back down and drift back off, and if we feel like we’ve got a reasonable amount of sleep, the quality of it can be brought down if we can’t sleep through minor disturbances. 

 

What is a Good Night’s Sleep?

Everyone is different, so a sleep that works for some may not be enough for others. However, on average, the amount of sleep we require lessens as we get older:

  • Adults need 7 to 8 hours.
  • Teens need 8 to 10 hours.
  • Children need 10 to 13 hours.
  • Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours (including naps).
  • Babies need 12 to 16 hours (including naps).

 

So, Are You a Light Sleeper?

With this in mind, common light sleeper symptoms include:

  • Receiving less than the recommended amount of sleep
  • Struggling to nod off
  • Fully waking during the night
  • Being easily disturbed
  • Feeling tired throughout the day and needing to nap

 

Due to a poor quality sleep, light sleeper personality traits can sometimes be enhanced. For example, light sleepers can be irritable and have heightened emotional reactivity. Light sleep has also been linked to anxiety.

 

The Stages of Sleep

Your sleep consists of cycles of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). We spend around 75% of our sleep in NREM, which is then broken down into various stages of relaxation. 

Light sleep falls under ‘stage one’ - a phase in which the body switches between being awake and asleep. If you’re a light sleeper, you will tend to stay in this stage for the majority of the night - meaning it’s much easier for you to be awakened.

REM is the stage where you’re in the deepest, most undisturbable part of your sleep. If light sleepers generally stay in stage one of NREM, they are missing out on the vital REM sleep which allows the body to fall into a deep sleep. 

REM is also the stage of sleep where you dream, so if you find it hard to remember your dreams, or don’t have any at all - it’s a tell-tale sign that you’re a light sleeper. 

There’s no concrete explanation as to why some of us are light sleepers and others heavy. While researchers haven’t found any conclusive reason as to why this is, some likely causes are:

  • Lifestyle choices
  • Brain activity whilst asleep
  • Sleep disorders
  • Genetics

 

What Does it Mean to be a Light Sleeper?

Researchers do tend to agree that the quality and length of your sleep is important to your health, as sleep affects almost every process in your body - from your digestion to your immunity to illness.

Sleep researchers at Harvard Medical School have looked into what it is that differentiates the light sleepers from the heavy sleepers. In their research, they conducted a three-night study which saw thirteen volunteers have their brain-wave patterns studied. On the first night, the researchers recorded the volunteers’ brain waves whilst they slept comfortably with no disruption. For the second and third nights, various sounds were played through speakers next to their beds. 

Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, the lead researcher, measured the thalamus, a region deep in the brain that processes visual and auditory stimuli. He found that the number of pluses, also known as sleep spindles, that were generated by the thalamus varied among the sleepers. Sleepers with higher numbers of sleep spindles slept through the sounds with more ease than those with less sleep spindles. 

We wanted to know, if we counted the spindles the first night, did that predict anything about their subsequent sleep?” said Ellenbogen. “And indeed it did. More spindles meant they were more likely to be protected from sleep disruption.”

 

Try Getting into New Sleep Habits

If you find it difficult to stay asleep during the night, and subsequently feel irritable, groggy and have a decreased attention span, there are some small changes you can make throughout your day to help. 

To get to the root of the issue, we recommend that you talk to your doctor or consult a sleep expert. You could also consider trying the following:

  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime. Try keeping at least four hours between dinnertime and bedtime, and of course avoid caffeine for as long as possible before bed.
  • Avoid electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Our devices keep us up in various different ways, but the blue light they emit confuses the production of melatonin - the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. 
  • Have a set sleep schedule - even on weekends. Sleeping in on your days off makes it harder for your body to rest when Sunday rolls around, so try to avoid it as much as possible.
  • Check your bed and mattress, are they as comfortable and accommodating as they could be? 
  • Ensure your bedroom is optimised to allow you to get the best sleep possible. Make sure the room isn’t too hot or cold, dim or turn off the lights and keep distractions at bay. Your bedroom is a place where you relax and rest.
  • Avoid late afternoon and evening naps.

Do you find yourself tossing and turning all night? Read our blog on how to avoid restlessness: Why Do I Toss and Turn All Night? We Asked An Expert 

There’s quite obviously a reason why some of us can sleep through anything while others can’t. While researchers are working on figuring this out, there’s no significant data to prove why just yet. 

But not to worry, because there’s plenty you can do to help avoid waking up in the middle of the night. It may seem small, but making those slight changes can really boost your chances of sleeping through the night. 

Have a look at our range of mattresses to find one that’s perfect for helping you relax and get a comfortable night’s sleep. After all, comfort is the most important factor for drifting off and having an uninterrupted sleep.

 

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