Heavy vs. Light Sleepers By Victoria S. Brkovich, MD

Are you the type who can sleep through the alarm, or do you wake up with any minor disturbance?  In either case, your sleeping partner may not be a perfect match in your sleeping style, but together you may be able to improve your sleep habits.

You may be a light sleeper sleeping with someone who gets up several times during the night, or a heavy sleeper who can’t understand why your weary partner constantly complains about the neighbor’s barking dogs, or your growling snore. Even if you sleep alone, being an overly light or extremely heavy sleeper can interfere with day-to-day living to the extent that you may need to seek help getting to the root of the problem.

If you’re a light sleeper, you may benefit from white noise, such as an environmental sound machine, to diffuse any sudden external noise that could wake you up during the night. An air conditioner or air cleaner that produces a low-level hum can serve the same purpose.

Light sleepers are more likely to smoke and drink alcohol and are usually less physically active than normal and heavy sleepers, according to a 2008 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These statistics do not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between light sleepers and certain lifestyle habits, but they do highlight activities you may want to consider adjusting when you’re trying to get a better night’s sleep.

During sleep, it seems that heavy sleepers simply don’t hear noise the same as their light sleeper counterparts do, so that they are better able to enjoy undisturbed sleep.  The physiological basis for this is being elucidated with research from Harvard University.  Using functional MRI and EEG analyses during sleep, the minds of heavy sleepers were seen to produce more pulses known as sleep spindles, which prevent sound from reaching the part of the brain known as the thalamus, where we become aware of external noise.

If you’re a heavy sleeper, however, it is easier for you to oversleep, and you may miss or be late for important events. If you find it almost impossible to get up in the morning, set two alarm clocks and, if necessary, place one across the room from your bed so that you actively have to engage yourself by getting up to turn it off.

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