Ever wonder what your body and mind go through as you sleep, or why REM and deep sleep have such a powerful impact on your overall health? Click through to explore the five-stage journey your mind and body take, and learn how you can get the most out of your nightly shut-eye session.
A complete sleep cycle lasts an average of 90 to 110 minutes, and the average sleeper completes the cycle four to five times per night. Being woken at any point during a sleep session (often due to sleep partner movement, unexpected noise or bright light) may restart the cycle and cause you to miss out on time spent in the deeper, more restorative phases of sleep. Keep in mind that a proper mattress with adequate support can limit the amount of motion transfer you experience, making it easier to sleep solidly through the night. Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Mercola.com
If you’ve ever watched someone’s head nod as they drift off to sleep, you’ve witnessed Stage 1 firsthand. Lasting just 5-10 minutes, Stage 1 is considered a transitional period between wakefulness and true sleep. Sleep is so light during this phase that a light noise or touch can easily wake you.
During Stage 2, we enter into a light, dreamless sleep and are no longer aware of our surroundings. Our body temperature lowers and our heart rate begins to slow. The brain begins to produce what are known as sleep spindles, or “bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity.” This phase generally lasts about 20 minutes and accounts for up to 50 percent of our total sleep time.
Stages 3 and 4 are collectively known as deep sleep. During these stages, the brain generates slow brain waves known as delta waves, and no eye movement or muscle activity is present. If awakened during this phase, it is difficult to adjust, and you may feel groggy or disoriented for several minutes.
Our bodies accomplish important restorative functions during deep sleep: skin cells are turned over, tissues are repaired and rebuilt, the immune system gets a recharge, and there’s an increase in growth hormone, which is responsible for repairing cell damage.
Areas of the brain associated with social interactions and decision-making become much less active, a respite that some experts believe helps improve daytime performance in those areas. Deep sleep may also play an important role in memory consolidation, allowing us to retrieve important information with greater ease and accuracy during our waking hours.
About 70 to 90 minutes into a sleep session, we enter our first round of REM sleep. During this stage, the brain and eyes are very active, and breathing is rapid, irregular and shallow. Dreams occur almost exclusively during this phase of sleep, with the average person dreaming about two hours each night. During a typical night, we experience four or five periods of REM sleep. Our brains may use this phase as a time to process complex information and emotions from the day. Some studies have shown that those who sleep a full night after learning a new skill perform better on that skill the next day, indicating that REM sleep may help us maximize our learning potential. Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, HelpGuide.org, UK Essays
Be Consistent: In order to get the restorative sleep you need, try setting and sticking to a bedtime that allows for 7.5-8 hours of sleep each night. Some experts suggest keeping a sleep journal where you record hours slept and how you felt throughout the day. This type of tracking may motivate you to stick to a consistent, earlier bedtime.
Don’t Count on Weekend Sleep: While it may be tempting to sleep in on the weekends, doing so may actually make it harder to get back on track once Sunday night rolls around. Rather than packing three extra hours into one sleep session, try spreading that time out over several nights, making up a half-hour of your sleep debt at a time. Experts suggest if you want to get more sleep, it’s best to go to sleep earlier rather than sleep in later, since this strategy more closely matches your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Mattress Match: If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night or experiencing pain throughout the day, it may be time to break up with your old bed. No matter which new mattress you choose, it should provide proper support and meet your comfort needs. You’ll be surprised what a difference updating you sleep space can make.