It was once a common belief that when your head hits the pillow and you drift off to sleep, your body shuts down. This could not be further from the truth. Sleeping is how your body and mind rests and restores its energy levels. It is an active state that affects both your physical and mental status. In fact, while you’re getting your zzz’s, your brain goes through various patterns of activity.
Quite simply, sleep can be broken down into four stages and the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. Learning about these stages, and what our body and brain does during these, will help us to sleep better!
STAGE 1: INTRODUCTION TO SLEEP
Stage 1 is a transition state from wakefulness to light sleep. During this time, you may drift in and out of consciousness and can be easily awoken. Your eyes may move slowly and if woken from this phase, you are usually able to recall some visual experiences.
STAGE 2: BEGINNING OF SLEEP
Your breathing, heart rate, brain waves and eye movement slow right down during stage 2.
STAGE 3: SLOW WAVE SLEEP
Stage 3 is the deep sleep that is required to wake up rejuvenated. It lasts for longer periods at the beginning of the night, then gets shorter each time you phase through the whole sleep cycle. There is no muscle activity or eye movement. It is difficult to be woken up from this stage.
STAGE 4: REM (RAPID EYE MOVEMENT) STAGE
During REM sleep the eyes usually move rapidly and breathing becomes irregular. Temporary limb paralysis occurs, we believe this is to stop us from acting out our dreams. REM sleep is critical to learning and memory function. This is when the brain processes information from the day and converts events to long-term memory.
Usually a whole sleep cycle will last anywhere from 90 to 110 minutes, starting shorter with deep sleep being prevalent, and then as the REM phase gets longer so will the overall cycle time. By the end of the night the deep sleep stages will be almost non-existent.
How to keep your sleep cycles regular
Maintaining a consistent bed time and routine will help regulate your sleep cycle. Your body will learn your sleep schedule and begin priming itself, without effort from you, to initiate a successful sleep cycle.
Another thing to remember is to avoid stimulants and alcohol in the hours before sleep as these interfere with REM sleep. They also make it difficult to get into a deep sleep. This means you will not be processing your experiences from that day properly (REM sleep), and that you will not wake up feeling refreshed in the morning (deep sleep).