Are You a Heavy or Light Sleeper?

Do you wake up at the slightest disturbance or are you the type that sleeps through the alarm each morning? Whichever way you roll, there are solutions.

On college housing applications, there is often a series of questions to answer, and boxes to check, about sleep and other lifestyle habits to help administrators make better roommate matches. A student with rather noisy habits, or one who studies (or parties) well into the night, may not disturb a heavy sleeper but could drive a light sleeper nearly insane.

Beyond college dormitories, however, your perfect match may not share 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. 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 using a white noise or 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 sleepers 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 highlight activities you may want to consider when you're trying to get a better night's sleep.

Heavy sleepers simply don't hear noise the same as light sleepers so they are better able to enjoy undisturbed sleep. Thanks to research from Harvard University, scientists now understand the physiological basis for this. During sleep, the minds of heavy sleepers produce more pulses known as sleep spindles. These pulses 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 you have to get up to turn it off. If possible, enlist the help of a partner or friend to make sure you get up on time for very important occasions.



Dang-Vu, T, et al. "Spontaneous Brain Rhythms Predict Sleep Stability in the Face of Noise." Current Biology: 20(5);R626-R627 10 Aug 2010 Web. 16 Nov 2010.


Stobbe, M. "Too Much, Too Little Sleep Tied to Ill Health" U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  2008. Web. 29 Dec 2010.