Understanding the Stages of Sleep | What They Are, Why They Matter, and How to Fix Them

Most people are familiar with the basics of sleep — we know that it’s important for our health and that we need to get a certain number of hours every night. However, there is more to sleep than just shutting your eyes and counting sheep.

I, too, struggle with getting enough sleep, but I’ve learned it’s not just the number of hours you sleep that matters — it’s also the quality of your sleep. And the quality of your sleep is determined by the different stages of sleep your body goes through during the night.

In order to truly understand sleep, it’s helpful to know about the different stages our bodies go through during the night. In this blog post, I’ll be looking at the four main stages of sleep and what each one does for your body.

The Stages of Sleep

Though you may not think about it, the different stages of sleep play a very important role in your overall health. Most people are only familiar with REM sleep, but there are actually four different stages of sleep, each with its own unique benefits. In order to get the most out of your sleep cycle, it’s important to be aware of what these stages are and how they work.

Stage One: N1

The first stage of sleep is Non-Rem sleep (NREM), and it’s the transition between wakefulness and light sleep. During this stage, your eyes are still moving and your brain activity is slowed. This stage lasts about 1–5 minutes before you move on to deeper stages of sleep.

During this stage, your body begins to relax and prepares for a deeper sleep. This is the stage where you might start to doze off or have brief moments of wakefulness. If you’re disturbed during this stage, it’s much easier to wake up completely.

Stage Two: N2

The second stage of sleep is a NREM stage, which is when your brain activity slows even further and your eyes stop moving. Your muscles will also relax, your body temperature drops, and your breathing slows down. This stage usually lasts between 10–60 minutes, depending on which sleep cycle you are in.

Stage Three: N3

The third stage of sleep, still an NREM, is called deep sleep, slow-wave sleep, or delta sleep, and it’s when your brain activity slows the most. Your muscles will be completely relaxed and you’ll be less likely to be awakened by noise or movement during this stage. Deep sleep usually lasts for about 20–40 minutes.

Deep sleep is important for physical and mental restoration. It’s also when your body begins to release human growth hormone, which helps repair tissue and build muscle.

Stage Four: REM Sleep

The fourth stage of sleep is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is when you dream and your brain activity increases. Your eyes will move quickly during this stage, even though your body will be paralyzed. REM usually lasts for about 10–60 minutes.

REM sleep is important for consolidating memories, learning new information, and creativity. It’s also necessary for maintaining your emotional health. REM sleep is when your brain processes emotions and sorts through the events of the day. If you don’t get enough REM sleep, you may feel more stressed or angry than you would otherwise.

So, Why Do Sleep Stages Matter?

Although most of us know that getting a good night’s sleep is important, few of us know much about the different stages of sleep and how they contribute to our overall health. To put it simply, sleep stages matter because they help to ensure that we get the restorative sleep we need to function at our best. Each stage of sleep serves a different purpose, and our bodies need to progress through all of them in order to fully recharge.

Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • An improved immune system
  • Reduced fatigue level
  • Increased muscle recovery rates

For example, during the early stages of sleep (also known as non-REM sleep), our bodies are able to repair tissue damage and restore energy reserves. Later on, during REM sleep, we consolidate memories and process emotions. So, if we’re not getting enough of each stage of sleep, we’re likely to feel fatigued and mentally drained.

In extreme cases, regular sleep deprivation can lead to serious health concerns, such as heart problems, weight gain, and diabetes. The bottom line is that getting a good night’s sleep is essential for maintaining our physical and mental health. And making sure that we get enough of each stage of sleep is an important part of ensuring that we get the rest we need.

How Can You Have a Healthier Sleeping Cycle?

There are a lot of things that can impact the quality of our sleep, from our diet and exercise habits to the amount of stress we’re under. But one of the most important things is our sleeping cycle. A healthy sleeping cycle is key to getting a good night’s rest.

So what is a healthy sleeping cycle? It’s generally recommended adults get 7–9 hours of sleep per night. So if you are getting the recommended amount of sleep, you will cycle through these stages about 4–6 times a night.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help yourself get more shut-eye:

  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up at a reasonable hour. When we stick to a regular sleep schedule, it helps keep our circadian rhythm in balance, which leads to better sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. They can disrupt your sleep by preventing you from falling asleep or causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Get some exercise during the day. Exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep by reducing stress and promoting muscle relaxation.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only. Using your bed for activities like watching television or working can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. This could include taking a relaxing bath, reading, or doing some gentle stretches.
  • Make your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. This will help cue your body that it’s time to sleep.

By following these simple tips, you can help ensure that you get the restful sleep you need to feel your best.

So next time you’re feeling tired, remember that it’s not just about getting more hours of sleep — it’s about getting better quality shut-eye. Sweet dreams!

***Disclaimer*** This is a work in progress and as such is likely to change before reaching the finished product. Thank you for your understanding.

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Originally published on Medium

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