relaxed man and woman in bed

What Is Slow-Wave Sleep? The Most Underrated Part of Sleeping

Slow-wave sleep is part of your body’s natural sleep cycle–and it could be the key to feeling stronger and more energized in the morning.

The Science of Sleep

There are two basic types of sleep: REM and Non-REM (and no, we’re not talking about the band from Athens). REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movement. During this type of sleep, your brain is stimulated, and anything you learned during the day has an opportunity to become a long-term memory.

Non-REM sleep is divided into four sub-stages, with stages 1 & 2 making up light sleep and stages 3 & 4 consisting of deep sleep.

It’s only during deep sleep that slow-wave sleep happens. This type of sleep involves low-frequency brain waves. It’s also the time when your body does repair and maintenance on your muscles and produces 95% of its growth hormones.

What Happens When You Improve Your Slow-Wave Sleep?

While all stages of sleep are essential to maintaining a healthy, rested brain and body, slow-wave sleep is often overlooked as part of overall wellness.

If you’ve been putting your body through intense workouts during the day, you need SWS to recover and repair. Otherwise, you might as well skip the gym.

Your muscles break down during exercise; slow-wave sleep is where they build back up again, stronger and bigger than before.

What’s fascinating is that your body knows how much of each stage of sleep it needs every night. If you spent all day studying for a test, for example, you would naturally spend more time in REM sleep that night as your brain turns all those facts into long-term memories.

On the other hand, if you’ve been training for a marathon, then your body will compensate by amping up the deep sleep stages so that you can physically recover.

How to Get Better Slow-Wave Sleep

There’s one thing you can do right now to start getting more slow-wave sleep, and it doesn’t involve taking a pill or buying a special pillow. All you need to do is establish a regular sleep schedule.

Go to bed at the same time every night, spend at least eight hours there, and then get up on a regular schedule. That, more than anything else, will help you get those deep-down zzz’s.

The worst thing you can do is drink alcohol or caffeine at night. Although alcohol is a depressant and caffeine is a stimulant, they both interrupt regular sleep cycles.

Erin Long