Sleep is a vital part of our daily routine. We spend around one-third of our lives sleeping, yet
many of us struggle to get the quality sleep we need to feel rested and refreshed. One key factor that contributes to the quality of our sleep is the different stages of the sleep cycle that we go through each night. In this article, we’ll break down the different stages of the sleep cycle so you can understand what happens during each one and how you can become a skilful rester.
Stages of Sleep Cycle
The sleep cycle is divided into four stages: three Non-REM (NREM) and one REM stage. These stages are repeated throughout the night, lasting about 90 minutes each cycle. Let’s
take a closer look at each stage:
Stage 1: NREM-1
This is the stage where we transition from wakefulness to sleep. It usually lasts 5-10 minutes
and is considered light sleep. During this stage, our muscles relax, our breathing becomes slower, and our heart rate decreases. It’s easy to wake up during this stage, and we might not even realise we’ve fallen asleep.
Stage 2: NREM-2
This stage lasts for around 20 minutes and is a deeper level of sleep than NREM-1. During this stage, our body temperature drops, and our heart rate and breathing become even slower.
We spend most of our night in NREM-2, and during this stage, our brain starts to consolidate memories and process information.
Stage 3: NREM-3
This is the deepest sleep stage, also known as slow-wave sleep. It usually lasts 30 minutes or
more and is characterised by extremely slow brain waves. During this stage, our muscles are
fully relaxed, and waking us up is difficult. NREM-3 is essential for physical restoration,
including muscle repair and growth.
Stage 4: REM
REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and is the stage where we have our most vivid dreams.
It typically occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and lasts 10 minutes during the first
cycle. REM sleep is crucial for mental restoration, including memory consolidation and
learning. Our heart rate and breathing increase during this stage, and our eyes move rapidly
beneath our eyelids. This stage is known for vivid dreams. As the night continues, REM
stages may get longer.
How to Improve Your Sleep
To become a skilful rester, it’s essential to understand the sleep cycle and how they impact the quality of your sleep. Here are some tips to help you improve your sleep:
- Stick to a Sleep Schedule: Going to bed daily at the same time can help regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
- Create a Sleep-Conducive Environment: Ensure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. Use blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine to block out any distractions.
- Practice Good Sleep Hygiene: Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, especially in the evening. Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime. And don’t use electronic devices, such as smartphones or tablets, in bed.
- Get Plenty of Natural Light: Exposure to natural light during the day can help regulate your circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep at night. Spend time outdoors or near a window during the day.
- Consider a Sleep Aid: If you’re still having trouble sleeping, consider talking to your doctor about a sleep aid. However, be cautious and only use sleep aids as directed, as they can be habit-forming.