The benefits of deep sleep

We all know about the importance of sleep, but we can sometimes overlook the understanding and benefits of deep sleep for our well-being.

To help us better understand deep sleep, we spoke with Sleep Psychologist and founder of The Better Sleep Clinic, Dan Ford, one of the few psychologists in the country certified in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT-I) for Insomnia, the top recommended treatment for insomnia. Dan Ford has experienced sleep deprivation first-hand through his earlier career in the Armed Forces and the corporate sector.

Dan Ford shares his expertise around what deep sleep is, the benefits of deep sleep and ways we can better improve our sleep quality.

Have you ever felt like you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep? Do you wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed? You aren’t alone. Approximately 30-40% of New Zealanders wake up feeling tired and fatigued on a regular basis. But, there is hope, one of the key ways we can ensure we wake up feeling healthy, refreshed and ready to go is to improve our deep sleep.


When we fall asleep, we go through 90-minute cycles of different types of sleep each night, where we’ll experience four to six sleep cycles, that consist of light sleep, deep sleep and dream sleep.

We spend around 25% of our night in deep sleep, also known as stage N3 sleep, which mostly happens during the first half of the night. During deep sleep your heart rate and breathing slows, your brain waves come in large, slow, wave-like patterns. You’ll find someone in deep sleep hard to wake up, and if you do wake during this time, you’ll experience a lot of grogginess.

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Getting a healthy amount of all the sleep stages is important, but deep sleep is the most beneficial for the body and mind, as this is when our body goes into repair and restore mode.

A lack of deep sleep can reduce muscle and cell repair, making it harder to fight infections, reduce stress, reduce the chance of Alzheimers, and support muscle grow refreshed-rowth. It’s during deep sleep where hormones that support muscle and cell repair like grow refreshed-rowth hormone, testosterone and progesterone are released, while stress hormones such as cortisol are turned off. Waste products in the brain that contribute to the development of Alzheimers are cleared, and the immune system is strengthened which helps fight off infections.

Other sleep benefits include keeping your metabolic system functioning well. Lack of sleep can actually make you hungrier throughout the day and make you more prone to insulin resistance and risk of type 2 diabetes.

When it comes to the mind, deep sleep supports mental health and can reduce anxiety levels by up to 30%. Other key brain functions also heavily rely on deep sleep to function at their best such as learning and memory (eg, physical co-ordination and remembering a list).

So, with all positive benefits of deep sleep, how do we get more of it? Sleep science provides some answers.




Improve deep sleep by incorporating regular exercise into your weekly activities. For the elderly, regular exercise could be as little as going for a small daily walk, while for the younger generations, aim for one-hour a day of moderate intensity aerobic exercise to help improve deep sleep – and if you can get outside, even better! A word of caution – avoid vigorous exercise within one to two hours of bedtime as this can make falling asleep more difficult.



Help boost deep sleep by stimulating the brain throughout the day by incorporating activities, like learning and socialising. During the day get out and about with friends, visit a weekend market or a museum. At night, turn off technology entertainment and switch to more relaxing activities, like reading a book, playing a musical instrument, or trying a new hobby.



You’ve heard a thousand times that diet affects your health. But what about your sleep quality? A higher-fibre diet can increase the time people spend in deep, slow, wave sleep. While eating more saturated fat can decrease the amount of deep sleep and a higher intake of sugar can increase the chance of sleep disruptions. Make sure to be aware of what you’re consuming, how much and ensure you’re including foods with high nutritional value.



Have a hot shower or bath around 90 minutes before it’s time to sleep – this can help you fall asleep faster and improve deep sleep.



Do you struggle with sleep conditions that make it harder to get enough oxygen at night, like snoring, sinus problems or respiratory sleep conditions such as sleep apnea? The more oxygen you get at night, the better chance of increasing deep sleep. If you experience any two of the following: snoring, daytime tiredness, pauses in breathing while you sleep, or high blood pressure, you should get checked for a possible sleep disordered breathing condition.



It goes without saying that insomnia is going to limit the amount of deep sleep you get. Women and the elderly are more likely to suffer from insomnia. The average insomniac can suffer with poor sleep for periods of time, before seeking treatment. If you’re struggling, think about reaching out to a sleep psychologist and if recommended, you could look into Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi).



It may seem like a no-brainer, but science confirms that a comfortable mattress actually improves deep sleep. Find out more here.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to better manage your sleep get in touch with Dan Ford at The Better Sleep Clinic for 1-1 coaching tailored to your needs –

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