Understanding Sleep Cycles & How They Contribute to a Good Nights Slumber

Some people think that that the moment they get into bed, they immediately fall into a deep sleep and remain that way until morning. However, the reality is that a person’s sleep pattern is broken into several distinctive stages. Understanding them can contribute to more beneficial sleep habits.

A busy schedule can cut in to the quality of sleep. Scientific studies have shown that an average adult needs between 7 1/2 and 9 hours of sleep a night. Getting less than this amount makes it very difficult for a person to progress into proper sleep stages. Sleep stages are divided into two types: REM sleep and non-REM sleep.

The Non-REM Stages of Sleep

The first stage of non-REM sleep is called the transition to sleep and it usually lasts about five minutes. As the name implies, a person enters into this stage when they are starting to drift off to sleep.  They are easily awakened, and the eyes are still moving fairly rapidly under the eyelids. However, muscle activity does begin to slow down in preparation for the deeper stages of sleep.

The second stage is called light sleep.  This is the first stage where a person truly experiences sleep. Here, the eyes stop moving underneath the eyelids and the heart rate slows down considerably.  The body temperature drops during this stage, too. Generally, it takes about 10 to 25 minutes for this stage to reach completion.

The third stage, called deep sleep, is when physical energy gets restored, the immune system is strengthened and growth is stimulated. Since this is the deepest stage of sleep, the brain waves slow down. So, people who are in deep sleep are usually extremely hard to wake up. When they are awakened, a groggy or disoriented feeling is very common.

REM Sleep

REM sleep is also known as dream sleep.  As you might expect, it is during this state that dreams occur. It usually happens from 70 to 90 minutes after a person falls asleep. Paralysed leg and arm muscles, shallow breathing and increased heart rate and blood pressure characterize dream sleep. Whereas deep sleep restores the body, REM sleep does the same for the mind.  REM sleep enables the brain to process new things that it learned during the day, while forming connections among neurons to boost the memory.

When the various stages of non-REM sleep and REM sleep are combined, they represent one sleep cycle. Normally, a full sleep cycle lasts for about an hour and a half, and a person will experience between four and six sleep cycles per night.

Getting enough quality sleep is essential to maintain wellness. Things like being woken up in the middle of the night, eating or drinking too close to bedtime and working at odd hours are all things that can disrupt a sleep cycle. To help yourself achieve restful sleep, make your bedtime a priority. When it’s time for bed, that’s your cue to turn off the television, unplug the mobile phone and put the stresses of life behind you until morning. When you make a commitment to sleep, you’ll soon find that you wake up feeling more refreshed and ready to face the day.