Can You Stop Being A Light Sleeper?
5 min read
Last Modified 19 April 2022 First Added 17 March 2017
If you often wake up at night, whether it be from the headlights of a passing car or the noise of a family member in the hallway, you might be a light sleeper.
Being a light sleeper can be very frustrating as sleep can be interrupted by factors outside of their control. But is there a science behind why some people are light sleepers? We investigate light sleeping and whether you can stop it.
Your sleep consists of cycles of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) cycles. You spend about 75% of your sleep in an NREM state, which is broken down into different stages of relaxation. Light sleep is categorised as ‘stage 1’. This is the phase at which your body is in between being asleep and awake.
Light sleepers tend to remain in this phase for most of their sleep which therefore means they are awakened more easily. During a night of light sleep, your body is still sensitive to noise, temperature, touch, and movement during this stage, it’s easier to wake up in light sleep.
Everyday Health says:
“In general, young people spend more time in the deeper, heavier stages of sleep as they grow and develop. Older people spend less time in deep sleep stages and are more likely to complain of being light sleepers.”
However, age isn’t the only factor when it comes to how lightly you sleep. Certain lifestyle factors can disrupt your sleep such as poor diet, medical conditions and a poor sleeping environment.
According to the Sleep Foundation, researchers are still trying to figure out what makes someone a light or heavy sleeper. Aspects of the bedroom environment, genetics, or an underlying sleep condition can all play a role.
Light sleepers may be startled awake by the smallest of sounds. And heavy sleepers require a considerable amount of stimulation to wake up. Both, have a different sensitivity to stimuli which doctors call arousal threshold. An arousal threshold is a measurement of how powerful a stimulus must be in order to wake you up. Arousal thresholds are lower in light sleepers than in heavy sleepers.
There a several things in which light sleepers can do to ensure they benefit from a better night’s sleep.
Before going to sleep, ensure that your room is at a nice temperature and there isn’t too much light. Our bodies are programmed to adjust to any room temperature so making sure you aren’t too hot or cold can have an effect.
Experts suggest that the best bedroom temperature for sleep is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius).
However, this temperature may vary from person to person, but doctors recommend keeping your room between 16 to 19 degrees Celsius (60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit) to ensure a comfortable sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation has found that using electronic devices for long periods during the day can negatively impact your sleep routine, especially among adults. Introducing new forms of relation techniques including reading a book or meditation can calm your senses and relax your body.
Exercise can improve sleep for most people. Studies have found that regular aerobic exercise for prolonged periods can improve sleep quality and reduce excessive daytime sleepiness for people with insomnia. Practising Yoga has also been seen to improve people’s quality of sleep.
There is no need to overdo exercise as just 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day can alleviate anxiety and help you sleep better at night.
Taking a nap for more than 1 hour during daytime hours can have an effect when trying to sleep during the night. Experts suggest around 10 minutes is considered the best nap duration. This allows your body to feel rested, without entering a slow-wave sleep or wake up feeling groggy.
Aside from environmental and lifestyle choices, could there be a scientific reason for light sleeping? Sleep researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital think there is. They have identified that some people’s brains are better at blocking out the ambient sound- the constant background noise that usually goes unnoticed.
Discussing the study, Time Magazine say ‘as it continually monitors stimuli from the environment to protect against threats, the brain also actively blockades them to allow body and mind to recharge and rest during sleep’. It is this inability to effectively block the response that wakes us up due to an innate need to be alert to danger.
The research focused on patterns produced by the thalamus- a region deep in the brain responsible for processing visual and auditory stimuli. Neurologist Dr Jeffrey Ellenbogen discovered that the number of pulses generated by the thalamus, known as sleep spindles, varied per person. The participants with a higher number of spindles slept through sounds easier.
Ellenbogen says that ‘more spindles meant they were more likely to be protected from sleep disruption’. If more work is carried out, this could mean a positive change for those with fewer spindles.