We all know that sleep is an important part of living a healthy life. What we may not fully understand is what goes on while we sleep. To help understand what goes on in the human brain during sleep, we must first understand the different sleep stages that are cycled through. The brain has 5 sleep stages it enters into throughout the night to help ensure you wake up rested and energized. Non-REM sleep and REM sleep are building blocks to our sleep cycle, and typically follow a predictable pattern, going from light sleep to deep sleep several times during the night. To help understand why 8 hours is recommended as the proper sleep duration per night, we need to first understand our sleep cycle.
This is the stage where we slip from wakefulness to a light sleep. This stage does not typically last very long, only about 5 to 10 minutes, and you can be woken up very easily. If awoken, you may not recall a sense of sleeping at all. This stage is also when the muscles relax in the body in preparation for the night’s slumber.
In stage 2, the sleeper falls into a deeper sleep than in stage 1, and being woken up is more difficult. The dream state begins in this stage; it is unlikely that clearly formed images will be apparent and vague ideas and images floating around the mind are more common. Additionally in stage 2, the body temperature continues to decrease and the heart rate begins to slow down. This stage lasts approximately 20 minutes.
The transition into a very deep sleep takes place during stage 3. During this stage, deep and slow brain waves known as delta waves start to emerge. The muscles in the body have relaxed, and a person’s respiration becomes very steady and calm.
Stage four is also known as delta sleep because of the slow brain waves called delta waves. During stage 4 you are in the deepest state of sleep. Brain waves are extremely slow and the body directs blood flow away from the brain and towards the muscles to restore physical energy. This stage lasts roughly 30 minutes.
Stage 5 or REM sleep:
Stage 5 is referred to as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During this stage dreaming occurs and is characterized by movement of the eyes, increased respiration rate and brain activity. REM sleep is commonly called a paradoxical sleep because while the brain becomes more active, the body and muscles become fully relaxed, almost paralyzed, so you do not act out any dreams you may be having. This stage typically lasts around 10 minutes, lengthening as the night progresses.
Now to help understand your sleep cycle, know that each stage does not occur in numerical order. Refer to this graph to help you understand how your sleep cycle progresses throughout your night:
Each full cycle from stage 1 to stage 5, or REM sleep, can take around 90 minutes to complete. A healthy night’s sleep should result in 5 cycles of these stages, resulting in approximately 8 hours of sleep. Those of you with sleeping disorders may not experience all of the sleep stages, or even have shortened stages that can cause you to feel tired throughout the day.
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