Are you a Light Sleeper?
It’s common to refer to people who can sleep through noise and other disruptions as heavy sleepers. Those who are more likely to wake up are often called light sleepers.
Researchers haven’t definitively pinned down why people respond differently to possible disturbances while sleeping, but probable causes might include:
– undiagnosed sleep disorders
– lifestyle choices
– sleeping brain wave activity
Researchers do agree that the quality and quantity of sleep is important to your health. Sleep affects almost every system in your body, from your metabolism to immune function.
Light sleep and deep sleep stages
When sleeping, you alternate between two basic types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep.
Typically, REM sleep takes place about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. This stage is when most of your dreams happen. During REM sleep your:
– eyes move rapidly from side to side
– breathing is fast and irregular
– heart rate increases
– blood pressure increases
The difference between a light sleeper and a heavy sleeper might be the amount of time each spends in the deep sleep stage of their sleep cycle. Here’s a breakdown of the non-REM stages:
Stage 1. As you go from awake to sleeping, your breathing slows as well as your heartbeat, eye movement, and brain wave activity. Your muscles begin to relax.
Stage 2. Your breathing, heartbeat, and brain wave activity continue to slow. Eye movements stop. Your muscles relax more.
Stage 3. You’re now in deep, restorative sleep. Everything slows further.
A small 2010 study found it’s possible to predict a person’s ability to stay asleep during noise by measuring sleep spindles on an EEG test.
Sleep spindles are a type of brain wave. Researchers believe they may be able to dilute the effects of noise in the brain.
The study found people who are able to generate more sleep spindles can sleep through noise better than people who can’t.
These findings set the stage for studies focused on increasing spindle production so people can stay asleep through noisy interruptions.
What is a good night’s sleep?
Getting enough sleep is crucial for keeping your body and mind healthy. Sleep needs vary according to age. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends the following sleep guidelines:
– Adults need 7 to 8 hours.
– Teens need 8 to 10 hours.
– School-aged children need 9 to 12 hours.
– Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours (including naps).
– Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours (including naps).
– Babies need 12 to 16 hours (including naps).
How to get a good night’s sleep
A good night’s sleep can be described as:
– falling asleep easily
– not fully awakening during the night
– waking up when expected (not earlier)
– feeling refreshed in the morning
If you’re a light sleeper, there are some habits you can develop to ensure the best possible sleep every night. Try the following:
– Follow a schedule. Try going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day, including your days off from work.
– Develop a consistent bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or read a book.
– Make your bedroom relaxing, quiet, and dark.
– Keep all screens, including televisions, computers, and cell phones, out of the bedroom.
– Keep your bedroom cool.
– Avoid late afternoon or evening naps.
– Exercise at regular times every day and make sure to stop at least three hours before bedtime.
– Avoid caffeine late in the day, including caffeine found in foods like chocolate.
– Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime.
– Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages close to bedtime.
If trouble sleeping has you feeling tired and affects your ability to do your daily activities for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor. They may have some suggestions on getting a better night’s sleep. Your doctor might also recommend testing for a potential sleep disorder.
If you consider yourself a light sleeper and it’s interfering with your ability to get a good, refreshing night’s sleep, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to encourage better sleep habits.
If poor sleep is interfering with your daily activities, consider a visit with your doctor. They may have thoughts on how you can improve your sleep, or they might suggest testing for a possible sleep disorder.
Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA on April 9, 2019 — Written by Scott Frothingham