Sleep occurs in cycles of around 90-110 minutes, most people normally go through 5 cycles during the night (7.5-8.5 hours).
Each cycle includes 5 different stages occurring in a particular order.
1. Stage 1 – Drowsy sleep. This is the transition period from fully awake to sleep, where you drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. Your eye movements are slow as is your muscle activity. You are starting to loose conscious awareness of your external environment. This is the stage when you occasionally may experience sudden twitches or the sensation of falling, these are all normal to feel in this stage.
2. Stage 2 – Light sleep. This is the stage your body is relaxed and prepares to enter into deep sleep, this state usually lasts longer than the other stages – you spend 45-50% of your night in stage 2.
3. Stage 3 and 4 – Deep sleep. Deep sleep is characterized by maximum brain and muscle relaxation, with stage 4 being a deeper version of stage 3. Stage 3 is when you may experience night terror, sleepwalking and sleep-talking. People who awaken during stage 3 and 4 often feel groggy and disorientated for several minutes. In stage 4, there is no eye movement or muscle activity. You usually go less deep each cycle throughout the night, so your deepest sleep (stage 4) occurs in the first half of the night.
4. Stage 5 – REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement; this stage is very different from all the other stages because in REM sleep brain wave activity is similar to an awakened state. In REM state your heart rate and blood pressure increases, your eyelids flutter. This is the result of intense dreaming; which occurs mostly during REM sleep. The end of the REM stage is the ideal time to wake up.
5. Stages go in the following order to form a cycle: 1-2-3-4-3-2-1-REM. The duration of each stage varies from 5 to 15 minutes. REM stage lasts for around 10 minutes in the first cycle, with each recurring REM stage increasing in duration, with the final one lasting an hour. Total cycle time ends up taking round 90-110 minutes, with the first cycle usually being the shortest, closer to 90 minutes.
Another thing to take into consideration
Drugs such as alcohol and sleeping pills can suppress certain stages of sleep. Even though you sleep longer, the sleep may not fulfil its physiological functions completely, making you feel unrested when you awaken.
What to do with all this information to help you sleep better
- The best time to wake up is at the end of the cycle. Pay attention to your state when you wake up and try to identify what stage you are awaking from.
- If the alarm wakes you up interrupting your dreams it is very likely that you are in a REM stage or stage 1 which is a good time to wake up.
- If you feel extremely disoriented when you wake up then your waking up from stage 3 or 4, this is not the ideal time to wake up. If possible take another 30 minutes of sleep to help you wake up feeling refreshed.
- Write down how long you sleep each night and how you feel when you wake up. Try and adjust your sleep duration so you wake up at the end of the cycle.
Experiment slowly – you can’t change your sleeping patterns in one day, but you can do it easily over time with small steps.
Understand your body and its sleep patterns will help you to have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Contact Erika to take the first steps to achieving a good night’s sleep.