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Sleep Disorders

Sleeping Lightly

05/12/2009

Question:

Please I would like to find out how to develop light sleeping because I`m a very heavy sleeper. Recently some things were stolen from my bedroom while I was asleep and I was oblivious until the next morning. I would like to know how I can be aware of my surroundings even while asleep before something worse happens.

Answer:

When we fall asleep, we pass through different stages during the course of the night. Stages one and two, which make up the bulk of our sleep (especially stage two), are the usual entry way into sleep from wakefulness. These stages are lighter stages of sleep from which we are relatively easy to awaken. Stages 3 and 4 (which are also called slow wave sleep) as well as REM sleep are the deeper stages that help your body and mind become "recharged," so to speak. During slow wave sleep and REM sleep, it’s harder to awaken in response to surrounding noise. This is particularly true during slow wave sleep, which is sometimes also referred to as deep sleep.

The nature of sleep is designed so one does not easily arouse from their environment. The reason for this is so that our mind and body can recover, restore and process memories from the daytime. These important processes occur primarily during slow wave and REM sleep. A reduction or interruption / fragmentation of these stages can lead to poor sleep with resulting symptoms of not feeling rested and an overall sense of not feeling well. More serious health problems could occur if this is a chronic problem.

As such, the sleep community does not routinely recommend medications or behaviors that would lead to a “lightening” of sleep. Furthermore, it’s important to determine if the “deep sleep” you are experiencing is simply normal sleep or the result of another a problem, such as chronic partial sleep deprivation or a primary sleep disorder. For example, if an individual is sleep deprived from not sleeping enough hours nightly, when they do fall asleep, they will spend sleep time “catching up” on those deeper stages of sleep first, which could result in prolonged episodes of deeper sleep.

If you remain concerned about your sleep or would like to be evaluated for a possible sleep disorder, I recommend you discuss your problems with your primary care doctor. They can then decide if referral to a Sleep Specialist is needed for further evaluation.

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Response by:

Meena S Khan, MD Meena S Khan, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University