When determining how well you slept last night, it is tempting to go by the number of hours. However, quantity is just a small part of the formula. It is important to note that one’s 8-hour sleep is divided into multiple stages of sleep, not all of which are restorative. To ensure that your body undergoes “good” sleep, it is important to remain asleep long enough in the restorative part of the sleep stage. Additionally, having undisrupted sleep allows your body to transition between one sleep stage and the next, allowing you overall longevity and good health vitals in the long run.
There are 4 commonly known sleep cycles explored below:
NREM STAGE 1/N1:
The first stage of the Non-Rapid Eye Movement cycle is when a person has just fallen off to sleep. This can be described as light sleep, right after we slowly drift off. This stage typically lasts up to 7 minutes. As time ticks, one’s brain and body activities start to slow down. As you progress through another sleep cycle, you may not experience NREM Stage 1 during the night again.
NREM STAGE 2/N2:
Fun fact – over 50% of our sleep hours is spent in this stage. This is when our brain activities have slowed down, just as we develop more relaxed muscles, drop in temperature, slower breathing, and calm state. The first N2 stage lasts up to 25 minutes but can be higher as it transitions through multiple cycles the whole night.
NREM STAGE 3/N3:
The restorative sleep cycle mentioned at the beginning of this article, is this stage right here. In other words, this stage is called “deep sleep”. This phase is crucial for our wellbeing, as this sleep cycle helps our body fight off toxins, repairs impairments, rebalances our vitals, and so on. A person is harder to wake up in this stage, seeing that the body and brain have reached a completely relaxed state. Ever seen someone wake up in an extremely groggy mood? You’ve probably robbed them of some N3 sleep! Each stage lasts around 2-40 minutes in the first few hours of your sleep, but continues to decrease as the night passes.
During this stage, brain activity paces upwards, almost as fast-paced as our awake state. Our muscles experience temporary paralysis, except for two body functions; eyes that move (despite being closed) and muscles that control breathing. 25% of our sleep time is spent during REM sleep, in which vivid dreams can occur.
Each and every sleep stage is vital to our health – so there is no such thing as the “best sleep cycle”. The seamless transition in between one cycle and another helps our bodies recuperate and function optimally. The sleep disruptors we are exposed to at night (loud noises, bright light, newborns, or unforeseen circumstances), the better our sleep stages transition, leading to good sleep quality.
While it is hard to take control of our sleep cycles (oh, how nice it’d be to simply switch on and off!), we can, however, maintain good sleep hygiene. This means controlling the environmental factors that affect our sleep such as temperature, brightness, sleep tools (pillows, comforters, the works), and overall comfort. More about secrets to sound sleep HERE.
If you find yourself constantly lacking good sleep capacity, book yourself a consultation with a sleep specialist. Do not deprive your body from the sleep you deserve.