There are some people who can sleep through pretty much anything. But others can wake up due to even a small sound, or a slight shift of the lighting in the room. If you often find yourself waking up in the night due to small disturbances that other people sleep through, you may be a light sleeper.
Being a light sleeper can be frustrating. Everybody wants an uninterrupted, good night’s sleep, and this can be more difficult for light sleepers.
Not only is being a light sleeper an annoyance, but because it can negatively impact your sleep, it can also impact your health. Therefore, it is important to understand what is disturbing your sleep at night, and try ways to stay asleep, so you get a good night’s sleep every night.
What it Means to be a Light Sleeper
A light sleeper is someone who is easily woken up due to a disturbance. The disturbance can be anything from soft light to your partner shifting in bed, although it is commonly noise. Whereas light sleepers wake up easily due to a disturbance, heavy sleepers are much less likely to wake up. If you wake up at every sound and light, and notice your partner sleeps through it all, it is probably because you are a light sleeper, and they are not.
Light sleepers are more likely to experience broken up, poor quality sleep. Poor quality sleep may make you feel tired the next day, and consistently getting poor quality sleep may lead to more serious health issues like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, or a sleep disorder.
The Sleep Cycle and Sleep Stages
Sleep is composed of two main cycles: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non rapid eye movement). These cycles switch about every 90 minutes, starting with NREM sleep. NREM sleep is made up of three stages:
- Stage One is light sleep, which is between being fully awake and being deep asleep. Stage One is the lightest and shortest stage of sleep, it usually lasts for only a few minutes. When you are in stage one sleep, you can be easily woken up. Also, in this stage, your muscles relax, and your heartbeat, breathing, eye movements, and brain waves begin to slow down.
- Stage Two is longer than Stage One, and it is where deep sleep begins. As your body enters stage two of the NREM cycle, your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing slow down even more, your body temperature decreases, and your eye movements stop.
- Stage Three is also referred to as “slow wave” sleep. It is the deepest and most restorative stage. It is characterized by a relaxation of muscles, and even slower breathing, this is also where tissue repair and growth occurs.
- Stage Four/REM sleep follows after the three stages of NREM sleep. REM sleep is associated with the rapid movement of the eyes from side to side, along with an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity. During this stage, your brain waves function similarly to when you are awake. REM sleep is dream sleep, and while you are dreaming, your muscles remain locked in place to prevent you from acting out your dreams.
NREM vs REM Sleep
During a typical night of at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep, your brain cycles through each of the four stages multiple times. After every complete cycle, REM sleep gets longer.
When a light sleeper is disturbed, and sleep is interrupted, the cycle of sleep is interrupted, and you spend less time in deep sleep stages like REM. The deeper stages of sleep are restorative, and important for memory consolidation, emotional processing, and physical repair. This can result in light sleepers waking up feeling sleep-deprived and tired. If this persists, this can lead to an increased risk for certain health conditions, like dementia.
Why are Some People Light Sleepers?
While researchers don’t know why some people are light sleepers, and others are heavy sleepers, there are some factors that can contribute to light sleeping and sleep disruptions in general.
The real difference between a light sleeper who may be jarred awake by the sound of a passing car, and a heavy sleeper that is much more difficult to wake up is sensitivity to stimuli. Doctors refer to this difference in sensitivity to stimuli as an arousal threshold. An arousal threshold explains how strong a stimulus has to be to wake you; therefore, light sleepers are said to have lower arousal thresholds, and heavy sleepers have higher ones.
Your arousal threshold can be affected in a number of ways, including the following:
- Age: People over 60 years of age are more likely to wake up during the night, and get less sleep.
- Stress: Stress, anxiety, and hypervigilance can cause you to wake up more easily at night. People who experience high levels of stress are more likely to have a night of interrupted sleep.
- Sleep stage: It is much easier to wake up during the early and lighter stages of sleep. Some people spend more time in deep sleep, while others spend more time in lighter sleep stages, meaning they are more likely to wake up from a disturbance.
- Waking period: Individuals who have been awake longer during the day have an easier time falling asleep, and getting a night of deep sleep.
- More sleep spindles: Sleep spindles are a spontaneous brain rhythm that helps with memory consolidation while you sleep. They may also help the brain be more resistant to noise-causing interruptions in sleep. Individual people usually produce a consistent amount of sleep spindles every night, although different people may produce more or fewer sleep spindles. Research has found that people with more sleep spindles have an easier time sleeping through noise. Also, older people produce fewer sleep spindles, which may account for their difficulty in getting deep sleep.
Tips to Sleep Better as a Light Sleeper
Light sleeping can be prevented and eased to some degree, especially if the reason for your light sleeping is something that is in your control. Light sleeping may be caused by a variety of things, and addressing many of them involves building better sleep hygiene. Here are some tips to get better sleep as a light sleeper:
- Follow a consistent sleep schedule every day. Setting a regular schedule to go to sleep and wake up is an important part of building good sleep habits. This will make it easier to sleep and wake at the appropriate times, and it will help your circadian rhythm to better establish itself at nighttime.
- Give yourself more time to sleep. If you find yourself waking up during the night because you are a light sleeper, you should give yourself more time to sleep to make up for the lost time. Allowing yourself more time in bed will ensure that you are better rested in the morning.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Practicing a calming bedtime routine every night is a great way to better improve your sleep, and help you fall asleep faster. Try relaxing bedtime rituals prior to sleeping, like reading, drinking herbal tea, taking a warm bath, listening to music, or meditating. Consistently practicing your bedtime routine will help you feel relaxed, so you can fall asleep faster, and tell your body when it is time for bed.
- Improve your sleep environment. Improving your sleep environment, i.e., your bedroom, may help you to sleep better as a light sleeper. Something inside your room could be a factor that is disturbing your sleep. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit), for the all-around best sleep conditions. If sound from neighboring apartments or the street keeps you up, try a white-noise machine, or listen to soothing noises, like the sound of rain or waterfalls, on your phone. If light from the street is getting into your room, try investing in room-darkening curtains or blinds, or wear a sleep mask. Also, think about whether your mattress is preventing you from getting better sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, uncomfortable and overheated due to your mattress, it is time to invest in a better one. If this is the case, check out LatexForLess.com to find a comfortable, luxurious mattress suited to you and your body.
- Avoid screens and blue lights before bed. Screens, particularly screens that produce blue light, can keep you up, and make it harder to fall asleep. Therefore, avoid screens at least 30 minutes before bed, and if this is not an option for you, try setting up a night mode on your device that allows you to control the brightness and blue light.
- Limit naps. You may love to nap, but if your sleep quality at night is poor, naps may be the culprit. Napping during the day makes it harder to fall asleep later at night. So try to limit your naps, and if you need to, do not exceed 30 minutes.
- Limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Both caffeine and alcohol negatively affect sleep quality. Both negatively impact our sleep cycle, and make productive sleep difficult. Try to limit your consumption of both before bed (and all day).
- Don’t eat food or drink water before bed. Although everyone likes a late-night snack with a drink, it may be disturbing your sleep. Avoid eating three hours before bed, and don’t drink too much water before bed, so you don’t have to get up to use the toilet in the middle of the night.
- Eat healthy and stay active. Leading a healthy lifestyle may also improve your quality of sleep, and help you get to sleep faster. Staying active and exercising during the day tires us out, and makes it easier to fall asleep, and get a deeper sleep, too.
- Get sunlight exposure during the day. It’s important to get sunlight exposure early in the day to start off your circadian rhythm. This lets your body and brain know its morning, and that it's time to get up.
- Take a magnesium supplement or melatonin. Magnesium promotes relaxation in the body, reducing stress, and helping you to sleep longer. Melatonin on the other hand helps you to get to sleep faster. If this doesn’t help, and you’ve tried every other step, you can speak to your doctor about trying sleep medicine.
How Much Sleep Should I be Getting?
How much sleep you require depends mostly on your age, and can vary slightly from person to person. Getting the right amount of sleep, not too much or too little, is an important part of being healthy and alert during the day. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following:
Sleep needed each day (in hours)
12-16 (including naps)
11-14 (including naps)
10-13 (including naps)
These figures are for good-quality sleep, and therefore don’t include hours you spend getting poor-quality sleep from disruptions during the night. So if you are a light sleeper that is up for an hour or to each night, you need to factor this in to how many hours of sleep, or how many hours in bed you require. Also, it is important to note that while undersleeping can be a problem, excessive sleep can be too.
Whether you were already aware of it or not, if you find yourself being easily disturbed at night while you sleep, and as a result find it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep, you are probably a light sleeper.
In addition, you may believe that being a light sleeper just means that you’re a little more tired during the day. Regularly getting poor sleep can increase your risk for health problems; therefore, it is important to address the problem early, and develop better sleep hygiene to address the problem. Luckily, there are some changes you can make to your bedtime routine, lifestyle, sleep environment, etc., that may help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and sleep more deeply.
The problem may be as simple as your mattress. Latex For Less mattresses are made from 100% high-quality natural latex, organic cotton, and wool. The mattresses are flippable, allowing you to choose between two levels of firmness in one mattress. Get yours today to help you start sleeping through the night.
FAQs About Being a Light Sleeper
- Should I See a Doctor About Being a Light Sleeper?
If you’ve taken the steps we’ve discussed in this article to improve your sleep, and are seeing no results, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to identify underlying sleep disorders that are stopping you from getting restful sleep. If nothing works, they may prescribe you sleep medicine to improve your quality of sleep.
- What Stage of Sleep is Light Sleep?
Light sleep occurs during the early stages of sleep. Stage One is the lightest stage of sleep, and Stage Two is deeper than Stage One, but still lighter than Stages Three and Four.
- Is There Such a Thing as too Much Sleep?
Yes, sleeping too much can cause daytime drowsiness, and health problems similar to a lack of sleep. Hypersomnia is the catch-all term for sleep disorders characterized by daytime sleepiness after regular amounts or excessive amounts of sleep. Insomnia is characterized by difficulty sleeping and staying asleep.
- Is Light Sleeping the Same as Insomnia?
No, insomnia is a sleep disorder where you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Light sleeping on the other hand is having a low arousal threshold, and waking up easily and often during the night, usually due to outside stimuli.