What makes some of us light sleepers while others can sleep through anything? More to the point - what can we do about it if every little thing wakes us up and ruins our night's sleep?
Having had a dig around for research on the topic, it seems not that much is known about why some of us wake up at the slightest noise or movement while others sleep through. Genetics and lifestyle choices are thought to play a role. As may undiagnosed sleep disorders. Some studies suggest that differences in brainwave activity during sleep may be the determining factor that makes someone a light or heavy sleeper. Sleep happens in waves, alternating between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) in cycles that last around 90 minutes each.
On a typical night we spend about three-quarters of our time in NREM sleep, and that is divided in to four stages. Stage one (the bit between between being awake and asleep), is considered light sleep. Deeper sleep begins in stage two, as your breathing and heart rate become regular and your body temperature drops. The deepest sleep happens in stages three and four – the restorative stages. During these parts of the cycle, breathing slows, muscles relax, and our body starts to restore and repair itself.
The amount of time we spend in each stage of sleep varies by age. Younger people tend to spend more time in the deeper stages (which makes sense as they are in a phase of their life where growth is the priority). This becomes less important as we age, and we spend less time in restorative, deep sleep and longer in the lighter stages. Hence older people are often describe themselves as lighter sleepers.
Although it's worth noting that some sleep researchers suggest that the term light or heavy sleeper is often subjective and not always a true reflection of how much deep sleep you are getting. Whatever the science says, if you wake up not feeling rested and feel it’s because you are being woken up through the night by external stimulus that others are able to ignore – what can you do to help yourself?
Here are six suggestions to help avoid a restless night:
CHECK YOUR BEDROOM:
Is your room dark and quiet enough? We’re programmed to wake upon sensing light and hearing unfamiliar sounds. Consider blackout blinds or earplugs if needed. Or switch rooms to find a better spot for some shuteye.
19 degrees is considered ideal for sleep. Too warm or too cold and you’ll wake. Dress you and your bed for winter and summer to make sure you don’t wake up sweating or shivering.
Use sleep-inducing aromatherapy to help you de-stress and calm your mind before bed. Have a balm or pillow mist with a relaxing aroma you love on hand by your bedside in case you need a bit of something extra to lull you back to sleep midway through the night. Try our new After Dark Sleep Balms - perfect little bedside essentials and compact enough to take with you when staying away from home. Just apply to pulse points as needed before sleeping or on waking through the night.
EAT & DRINK FOR SLEEP:
Heavy meals, caffeine, alcohol and some medications can all interfere with sleep. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol worsen sleep. It might help you drop off but it will reduce the amount of deep sleep you have, making it harder to get the amount restful sleep you need.
Waking up needing the loo is a common problem. Regulate how much liquid you drink after 6pm at night. Make sure you have a wee before getting in to bed. If you do wake up needing the bathroom, try and go there and back without putting on the bright light as that will make it harder to fall back to sleep.
ASK AN EXPERT:
If waking in the night is getting you down and leaving you feel tired, go and talk things through with your GP. They’ll be able to check through all the factors that are specific to you to try and create a tailor made plan to solve it. They’ll also be able to check for any underlying sleep disorders that might be the source of the issue.
If you wake up and find it hard to fall back to sleep try some meditation techniques (check out our easy to follow breathing exercises here). If all else fails, don't lie awake worrying. Get up and tune your mind to something else (something repetitive such as a jigsaw is perfect - or a bit of light reading) until you feel sleepy again.