There is plenty of advice out there for sleeping harder and deeper, for getting longer periods of restful sleep at night. However, there is very little for people who want to sleep lighter. Sleeping lighter is a necessity for some people. And, while you don’t want to sleep light all the time, doing so periodically is a good idea if you have a situation in your life that requires it.
If you’re a person with a lot of sleep spindles, your brain is protected from noise disruptions while you sleep. The thalamus of the brain produces spindles. The thalamus is “a structure in the brain that conveys senses, like sound, to the parts of the brain that perceive and respond to sensory information,” according to USAToday.com. Sleeping lightly for you may be very difficult and prove to be a hassle when you really do need to be more aware of your surroundings while you sleep.
Other people, who don’t produce as many sleep spindles, are more likely to wake up from light sounds, such as footsteps. This can aggravate them when they want to sleep deeply, but it can be good if they have reasons to want to sleep more lightly on occasion.
Why Would You Want to Sleep Lighter?
You might want to sleep lighter if you are a new parent and have chosen to co-sleep, which is keeping your baby in bed with you instead of in a crib or bassinet. You want to be aware of where your body is in relation to the baby’s so that you don’t accidentally roll over on to the baby and suffocate him. Being in a light sleep also helps you to around earlier as your baby starts to wake up from being hungry or perhaps not feeling well. You can take care of the baby’s needs before she gets too worked up and crying hard for an extended period.
Likewise, you might want to sleep lighter if you are prone to sleeping through alarm clocks. If your new job starts on Monday, you want to make sure you’re ready to go, not snoring through the snooze alarm that you hit three times and don’t remember touching. Training yourself to sleep lighter can make you wake up faster when you hear an alarm instead of disregarding it in a deeper sleep.
Another reason you may want to sleep later is if you’re the caregiver of a parent or ill person who needs attention throughout the night. You can catch some shut-eye in between the times the person needs you, but you need to be able to wake up quickly and without feeling too groggy if they need you.
When you first start to close your eyes, your body is relaxed. This helps you to transition to the next stage of sleep in which your heart rate and body temperature drop to help you get ready to move to the next stage of sleep, which is deep sleep. While it is easy to wake from stages one and two, the third stage is more difficult to awaken from.
In the deep sleep stage, your body is preparing for REM sleep and is much harder to wake. You’ll feel groggy if you’re woken up during this stage of sleep. In REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, you’re in the stage where you dream, and you are probably really difficult to wake up and feel groggy for some time afterward.
You move through these four stages over and over again throughout the night. It takes about 90 minutes to move between REM and non-REM sleep. About three-quarters of the night is spent in non-REM sleep. Your goal for the times you want to sleep lightly is to stay in stage one and two. You’re more alert to your surroundings and can be woken up more easily.
It’s not a good idea to avoid deep sleep and REM all the time. They are what help you to feel rested and able to function when you’re awake. You can try to alternate nights between deep and light sleep. If you are the caregiver of someone, build a network of people to give you nights where you can get deep sleep so you can do your job well when it is your turn to be ready at night to provide care.
How to Sleep Lighter
1.) Dim Light
If your bedroom has a dimmable light or night light on, you’re likely not going to fall into deep sleep for very long periods. You’ll wake up more easily the less time you spend in deep sleep and REM stages of sleep.
Consider an adjustable lightbulb you can control with your smartphone. You can get different colors and adjust the brightness levels to find the right combination to help you sleep lightly but still actually get some sleep.
Another option is to keep a television with a light on in your room. The background noise may wake you up from time to time as the pitch and volume change on whatever program or commercial is on at the moment. Having a TV also keeps REM cycles shorter and helps you wake up more easily from them.
Get a good alarm clock to go off throughout the night. This can lighten your sleeping as you’ll have to reach over and shut it off. You will also likely anticipate the next time it goes off, which can keep you in lighter stages of sleep as well. Get an alarm that vibrates as well to avoid sleeping through the beeping or ringing sounds of the clock.
3.) Opposite of Good Sleep Hygiene
Start drinking alcohol a bit before bed. While it can put you to sleep, you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night as it leaves your system. Caffeine before bed can make it difficult for you to sleep as well.
Turn the temperature up in your room while you sleep. You will likely toss and turn more, making it harder to get to and stay in REM and stage three sleep.
You could also eat sugary foods or drink sugary drinks, like soda or juice, right before bed. Turn on the blue lights of your computer and phone screens just before bed so that your levels of melatonin fall at bedtime.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to sleep lighter, remember that it is vital that you get good quality, stage three and REM –stage sleep on a regular basis to keep your body functioning as well as it can. Even if you are a caregiver, without good sleep, you are not as optimal of a provider as you could be if you prioritized taking care of your own sleep needs.
A combination of these methods of how to sleep lighter or something completely novel might just be what you need to sleep lighter. Try a few and play around with combinations until you find the one that works best for you.