Sleep is one of those things we often take for granted. Even though so many struggles to obtain quality sleep, they often assume they don’t have much to learn about when it comes to sleep.
How complicated can it be? For the most part, this is true; it’s not as if you need a Ph.D. in physiology or neurology in order to sleep well.
At the same time, however, many underestimate the benefit that can come from a better understanding of what goes on during sleep. Some might actually find that better understanding their sleep might lead to improved sleep.
We hear phrases like the ‘stages of sleep’ or the ‘sleep cycle,’ but we often don’t know what they mean beyond having something to do with sleep.
So for this article, we’ll take a look into what exactly these phrases mean, as well as other questions people ask, and how you can better improve them.
What are the 5 stages of sleep?
The five stages of sleep are based on the way the brain behaves during sleep, as observed by scientists.
The 5 stages or really split into two categories: REM sleep and Non-REM sleep. The first four stages are Non-REM sleep, and stage five is known as REM sleep and is the stage associated with dreaming.
As the division suggests, Stage five is the most different from the others.
The first stage is actually known as ‘wake,’ and seems to be the period just before or while we enter sleep. Becoming drowsy and passing into sleep. Stage 1 (actually the second phase) is the lightest stage of actual sleep and is also quite short, it is the easiest to awaken from and is often known as ‘light sleep.’
Stage 2 is deeper and is not as easy to awaken from, but stage 3 is the deepest and is the most difficult to awaken from. You might experience impairment for up to an hour if you wake during this stage.
REM Sleep is the stage associated with dreaming and is physiologically the most different. With the exception of Rapid Eye Movement (where the name comes from) and muscles of the diaphragm, the body is totally relaxed, and dreaming takes place.
So these are the five stages: Wake, Stage 1 (Light sleep), Stage 2, Stage 3 (Deep Sleep), and REM sleep.
What is a (good) sleep cycle?
During sleep, the body actually cycles through the different stages multiple times. Usually between 4-6 times. The trick is that each cycle has a different proportion of time spent in each stage.
For example, as the cycles progress, you begin to spend more time in REM sleep and less time in the other four stages.
Stage 1 usually lasts from 1-5 minutes and makes up around 5% of the total cycle. Stage 2 also increases with each cycle and eventually accounts for 50% of total sleep.
But the biggest change comes from REM sleep, with the initial cycle having only 10 minutes and the final cycle lasting up to an hour.
This can get a bit more technical, and it is fascinating, however, the important takeaway is understanding the idea that you cycle through sleep.
And it’s a good idea to avoid interrupting your sleep throughout the night so that your body and mind can cycle naturally through sleep.
How long is a sleep cycle?
Each cycle lasts on average for 90 minutes, but not each cycle is the same length. Some cycles may be up to 2 hours, others just over an hour.
Further, during the night, your body usually cycles through sleep 4-6 times a night. For adults, that means 6-9 hours of sleep a night.
So it’s important to plan a good chunk of time for your sleep since you want to ensure you let your body complete a normal amount of cycles and spend time in each stage.
Which Part of Sleep is Most Important?
Getting down to what most people want to know, what stage of sleep is most important not to miss? While all 5 stages are important (and your body will go through all of them), typically Stage 4, or Deep Sleep, is the most important stage for feeling rested. It is where healing and repair take place.
Deep Sleep lets you feel rested and healthy in the morning and keeps you from feeling like a zombie.
The problem comes from the fact that your body doesn’t just enter straight into Deep Sleep. You have to make sure you are allowing time for complete cycles, and you can’t pick and choose what cycles you remain in.
For example, the average adult gets just 1-2 hours of Deep Sleep for every 8 hours of regular sleep.
You might ask: How long does it take to fall into a deep sleep? Well, this varies depending on the cycle, as well as age.
Typically, for the first stage, you will probably enter deep sleep about 40-60 minutes into stage 1, but it varies and also depends on what cycle you are in.
As your cycle progress, you spend less time in deep sleep and more in Stage 2 and REM sleep. Further, once you get older you spend more time in Light
Sleep than Deep Sleep, even though you actually still need as much Deep Sleep as when you were young.
So what should we make from all of this information? Well first, you should understand that sleep is a bit more complex than you might have otherwise thought.
The Cycles and Stages of Sleep all must be completed in order for you to really feel healthy. This also means that you can’t just make up sleep as easily as you might have thought: for example, going to bed early to make up for lack of sleep the night before.
It’s also important to avoid waking up during a random stage, so it’s a good idea to ensure you’re planning enough time for sleep, and aren’t waking up during deep sleep.
An app, such as ShutEye, with a smart alarm, can help by waking you up during Light sleep and help you with scheduling.
But whatever you do, hopefully, a little more knowledge can help you improve your sleep, and therefore your life.
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