While the amount of time you spend sleeping is important, the quality of your sleep is just as significant and beneficial for your energy levels and general well-being.
Scientists have been studying this area in-depth since the 1920s and it has been discovered, that while you sleep, your brain goes through set patterns of activity. By understanding these sleep patterns, you can make choices to help improve your quality of sleep.
Stages of Sleep
A complete sleep-cycle consists of periods of non-REM and REM cycles. When you do drift off, your brainwave patterns slow down. The deeper the sleep, the slower your brainwaves become. This is called non-REM sleep (NREM). NREM sleep consists of three stages, each lasting from five to fifteen minutes:
Stage one is when you first begin to sleep. Your brainwave patterns gradually slow down and you can be easily awakened, although if you are interrupted in your first sleep cycle, you will most likely feel like you have not slept at all. This may last from five to ten minutes.
In stage two, your body prepares to enter deep sleep. Your heartbeat begins to slow as you relax and your body temperature decreases slightly. Your body will go through spontaneous muscle tensing and relaxation. This stage generally lasts 20 minutes and will briefly occur again after Stage Three, before you enter REM.
If you have difficulty sleeping, Stage One and Two are vital. If you are unable to relax sufficiently in these stages, it is unlikely that you will progress to Stage Three or REM.
Using calming breathing techniques, aromatherapy (in particular lavender oil) or ensuring you are sleeping in a tranquil comfortable environment, are tactics which can help you with this.
Stage three is when you hit deep sleep. Delta waves, which are down reaching, slow brainwaves, begin their activity in this stage. At this point in the sleep cycle, you will be less likely to respond to noise or activity in your sleeping environment.
This is most likely to be the longest sleep cycle you will experience. For people prone to bedwetting or sleepwalking, it will most likely occur in this stage. If you wake during Stage Three, you may feel groggy and just want to go straight back to sleep. This stage lasts around 30 minutes and becomes shorter and shorter throughout the night.
During a standard night’s sleep, you will also experience periods of REM, “rapid-eye-movement”, so-called due to the rapid, random movements of the eyes which occur during this period of the cycle.
The REM phase is believed to be the time when we dream and if woken during this time, you will likely have vivid memories of the preceding dreams. In the course of REM cycles, our brainwaves can be as fast as they would be if we were awake.
The average person goes through three to five periods of REM sleep a night, each lasting five to thirty minutes. The length of REM cycles generally increases as sleep progresses.
Understanding Sleep Cycle
Understanding your sleep cycles can help you plan your sleeping and waking times, as when you wake during light sleep, you will feel far more refreshed. An average sleep cycle lasts between 90 to 110 minutes.
If you are planning to take a nap, set aside this amount of time for optimum refreshment. However, sleep cycles vary as night time progresses, with REM and light sleep cycles becoming more frequent towards the morning time.
To ensure you wake up during light sleep, try an app such as the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, which will wake you when you are at the lightest stage of your sleep in a half-hour period.
Alternatively, place your body in a routine by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Soon your body will know that it must wake up at a certain time, even without the help of an alarm clock, and adjust its cycles accordingly.
We hope you’ve found this blog post helpful. For more great tips and tricks regarding achieving a restful night’s sleep, check out the sleep category of our blog!