Sleep is the process that works to soothe our worries and stress, provides necessary rest for the body, mind and other organs, and allows the body to heal itself. This is why when we have a great rest at night, the next morning we wake up fresh, rested and rejuvenated. It is an essential part of our daily routine, and it's no secret that we spend a significant amount of our lives sleeping.
But have you ever wondered what happens during the time when you are asleep?
Between the time when you are drifting off or waking up your body goes through multiple stages, each with its unique characteristics and functions. From the initial drowsiness to the deep, restorative sleep.
If you're curious and want to learn more about what happens when you close your eyes at night, what are the stages of sleep and why it's so crucial for our overall well-being, keep reading on!
What are sleep stages?
A sleep cycle is the progression of phases that a person goes through while resting. Each slumber cycle usually lasts 90 to 120 minutes and is divided into several phases. This process can be classified into two types: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM), which is further subdivided into stages, each with its own set of characteristics and functions.
NREM (Non-REM): This is typically divided into three different stages: N1, N2, and N3.
This is the first and lightest stage of the sleep cycle, lasting about 5-10% of the cycle and is often referred to as the transitional stage between alertness and slumber. During this period, you may also experience abrupt movements or twitches, as well as the feeling of falling, which is known as hypnic jerks. During this stage, your body begins to rest as well; cerebral activity and eye movement decrease, and you gradually advance to a deeper slumber.
Stage 2: N2
People usually progress from N1 to N2 slumber after a few minutes of N1 sleep. N2 is a deeper stage of NREM that accounts for approximately 45% of the cycle. During this stage, your body relaxes deeply, your eye movement stops, your breathing and pulse rate decreases, and your body temperature drops even more. Furthermore, the brain waves continue to slow down, but there are brief bursts of rapid brain activity known as sleep spindles that help you fall asleep. This stage symbolizes deep sleep, which lasts approximately 25 minutes on the first cycle and increases in duration with each subsequent cycle.
Stage 3: N3
After N2, the sleep cycle moves into the deeper stage of NREM known as N3. N3, also known as slow-wave sleep, accounts for approximately 20-25% of the slumber period. During N3, brain waves slow down even more, making it difficult to wake someone up. Deep slumber is essential for bodily and mental healing, as well as memory consolidation and learning. This is the deepest stage of NREM, during which your breathing is the slowest and your body heals itself, including tissue, muscle, and bone.
This type of slumber is distinguished by rapid eye motions, hence the name. It is the stage, during which the majority of our dreams occur, and it is important for cognitive and affective processing. During this period our limbs become paralyzed and our brain becomes more active.
During a normal night's sleep, a person goes through several cycles, each of which includes all four phases. The quantity of time spent in each state varies throughout the night, with more time spent in deep sleep early in the night and more time spent in REM later. These phases alternate throughout the night, with NREM accounting for approximately 75-80% of overall time and REM accounting for the final 20-25%. Understanding the various kinds of slumber stages and their functions is critical for promoting healthy slumber habits and general well-being.
What factors affect the sleep cycle and stages?
Our sleep is determined by the pattern, phases, and our body's internal mechanism. However, these are internal factors and processes, and there are numerous external factors that can also influence this cycle, both positively and negatively. Some variables can help you better your slumber quality, while others may be the cause of a disrupted slumber pattern, resulting in poor slumber quality and daily fatigue. Some of these causes are as follows:
Circadian Rhythm: Our body's internal clock, Circadian rhythm, plays a significant role in determining when we feel sleepy and when we wake up. This cycle is influenced by external factors such as light and darkness, which can affect our sleep/wake cycle and its quality.
Age: The amount of time we spend in various slumber phases varies as we mature, as do our sleep habits, and we tend to spend more time in lighter stages, such as stages 1 and 2, and less time in deeper stages, such as stage 3 and REM stage.
Stress & Anxiety: High levels of stress and anxiety can make it harder to doze off and stay asleep, and can affect the balance of different sleep stages.
Environmental Factors: The environment around you and factors like noise, light, temperature, and other factors can all disrupt your sleep.
Irregular Slumber Schedule: Inconsistent sleeping schedules, such as staying up late, waking up late, and not going to bed at the same time every night, can disrupt the body's normal sleep cycle.
Use of Electronics: Blue light from electronic devices such as phones, tablets, and computers can disrupt the body's generation of melatonin, a hormone that controls slumber. Using electronic devices can stimulate your brain, and your brain might interpret the light from these devices as a sign of the day, causing you to stay awake.
Caffeine & Alcohol: Caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and tobacco are stimulants that keep you and your brain active and alert. Consuming any of these after the afternoon or during the evening hours can disrupt and delay your nap for hours.
Uncomfortable Mattress: For the most comfortable nap, it is necessary to have a mattress that provides the required comfort, back support, body contouring, pressure relief, body alignment and support. But if your mattress fails to provide this, it can prevent you from getting comfortable and sleeping comfortably.
Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions and disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, snoring, narcolepsy breathing issues, and so on, can disrupt our sleep cycles and prevent us from reaching the deeper stages of sleep. Also, certain medications can disrupt the slumber cycle.
It's important to address any issues that may be disrupting your sleep cycle in order to improve your overall health. If you are having trouble sleeping, it's recommended to use the below-mentioned tips to improve your slumber.
Ways to improve sleep
There are many ways to improve and maintain a healthy sleep cycle, some of which are-
- Stick to a regular sleeping schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and every night, even on weekends. This can help your brain maintain a pattern and cycle.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine: At night before going to bed, having a calming and soothing routine can improve your siesta. But avoid any brain-stimulating activity instead; take a warm bath, read a book, or do some gentle stretching to relax your body and prepare for sleep.
- Limit exposure to electronics: As we have stated above, using electrical devices that produce blue light and bright glare can disrupt your slumber. It is recommended to avoid using electrical devices such as phones, tablets, and computers for at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Create a comfortable environment: Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, Keep your windows closed to block out the light and noise. Use heavy curtains and drapes. De-clutter your room and keep unnecessary stuff out of the room. Remove everything that creates a distraction at night.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows: Buy high quality mattresses, pillows and other mattress accessories like blankets, quilts, etc., for comfortable, pain-relieving and rejuvenating naps.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: To doze off easily and early, avoid taking caffeine, alcohol or other stimulants before bed or limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol, especially in the evening. Caffeine can be found in various beverages like coffee, cold drinks, chocolates etc., so do avoid them as well. Instead eat light snacks, dry fruits, fruits or easily digestible not alcoholic and non-caffeinated food before bed.
- Get regular exercise: Regular exercise can help improve your physical, mental and physiological health and it can help to keep you active and improve your overall health. It can also improve your sleep quality, but avoid exercising close to bedtime.
- Manage stress: Instead of heavy exercise, you can opt for stress-management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga before bed to help manage stress and anxiety, it can also be beneficial for dozing off and staying asleep.
- Avoid napping: Daytime naps can be refreshing, but if you slumber for more than 30 minutes, you will enter a deep sleeping stage, and waking from that condition will interrupt your slumber cycle. Napping during the day can also have an effect on your night-time slumber. So, limit your daytime naps and if required, restrict midday naps to 20-30 minutes.
Sleeping is more than just a passive condition of relaxation; it is a process with distinct bodily and cognitive roles. Understanding these phases is critical for general wellness. The sleep cycle is divided into two parts: non-REM and REM, which alternate in a predictable pattern throughout the night. Each stage is critical in a variety of functions, including memory consolidation, mental control, and physical restoration.
Understanding the stages of the sleep cycle, allows us to take measures to enhance the quality and duration of our slumber, resulting in a higher standard of life. So, prioritize slumber and take care of your body by creating a sleep-conducive environment and practicing good hygiene habits, such as making a sleep schedule and buying good quality mattress.
You can also call our sleep experts for more information on sleep and mattresses, as well as to find the best orthopedic mattress.