The Discrete Element Method (DEM) is used in this study to explore the highly nonlinear dynamics of a granular bed when exposed to stress conditions comparable to those at the bed of warm-based glaciers. Complementary to analog experiments, the numerical approach allows a detailed analysis of the material dynamics and the shear zone development during progressive shear strain. The geometry of the heterogeneous stress network is visible in the form of force-carrying grain bridges and adjacent, volumetrically dominant, inactive zones. We demonstrate how the shear zone thickness and dilation depend on the level of normal (overburden) stress, and we show how high normal stress can mobilize material to great depths. The particle rotational axes tend to align with progressive shear strain, with rotations both along and reverse to the shear direction. The results from successive laboratory ring-shear experiments on simple granular materials are compared to results from similar numerical experiments. The simulated DEM material and all tested laboratory materials deform by an elastoplastic rheology under the applied effective normal stress. These results demonstrate that the DEM is a viable alternative to continuum models for small-scale analysis of sediment deformation. It can be used to simulate the macromechanical behavior of simple granular sediments, and it provides an opportunity to study how microstructures in subglacial sediments are formed during progressive shear strain.