Many people think of sleep as a fairly simple process: we start to feel tired, lay down on our pillows, and then fall into a deep sleep until morning.
However, each night our bodies are going through a range of different steps to help us achieve an effective sleep and all of these stages of sleep has their own unique benefits.
The five stages of sleep can be separated into either REM or non-REM sleep, standing for Rapid Eye Movement. This means that during REM sleep cycle stages your eyes are moving quickly in different directions. According to the Sleep Foundation, our bodies will actually go through these sleep stages various times throughout the night, so we are still working very hard even as we rest.
Each sleep cycle length differs, but it’s believed that the entire process as a whole takes just under two hours each night. As our bodies pass through each stage, they’re working to repair damaged cells and help to build our nervous system which aids our mental and physical wellbeing.
During this first stage, we are just beginning to drift off to sleep. While here, we can be woken up quite easily and may even wake ourselves up with sudden muscle contractions and the sensation that we’re falling. This is a very common occurrence during stage one, and something that most people have experienced.
During light sleep, we are able to remember certain visual images, similar to a dream, and this may last for ten minutes or so. While in stage one, we can easily be woken up by others and will drift in and out of this stage until we reach the next one.
Once we’re in stage two of sleep, our body prepares itself for a deep sleep but keeps us in the lighter stage as doing so. It does this by lowering out body temperature so we can achieve a more comfortable rest and slowing down our heart rate.
While in stage two, our eye movements stop meaning we are in a state of non-REM sleep. Studies have shown that our brain waves also slow down, giving our bodies a chance to rejuvenate themselves.
Once you reach stage three, it is quite difficult to be woken up. During this time, you’re experiencing slow brain waves which are mixed with faster but smaller waves. The slower waves are called delta waves, and it has been proven that both babies and women experience more of these waves than others.
Your body has now begun the process of repairing damaging cells, which is crucial to fighting off infection and disease. During this stage of delta waves, many people will begin to dream, even though not all of these will be remembered upon waking.
This is the next phase of deep sleep, and anyone woken during this time will experience disorientation, grogginess, and confusion. It is also harder to wake anyone during this time, as you are in a deeper state of relaxation.
During stage four, your brain produces the aforementioned delta waves almost exclusively. This is when most of your dreaming will take place, and your body will be hard at work repairing itself.
There is no eye or muscle movement during this stage, and for children, this is when they may experience conditions such as night terrors, bedwetting, and other sleep-related activities.
Stage five of the sleep cycle is commonly known as REM or rapid eye movement. There are lots of changes to our bodies during this time, and when awoken from this stage of sleep you can vividly recall your dreams or other imagery you have just experienced.
During REM sleep, your breathing becomes shallow and fast, and your eyes will move around swiftly as they are closed. Your heart rate and blood pressure will rise, but your muscles stay completely limp. This stage generally lasts for 20 minutes or more and is quite hard to be woken up from.
The Importance of Sleep Cycles
As discussed earlier, our bodies go through each of these stages at various times throughout the night. According to sleep studies conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the average sleep cycle lasts for about 90 to 110 minutes, with the REM stage not beginning until about 70 minutes after we fall asleep.
Our neurotransmitters, or nerve signaling chemicals, are the things which control when we sleep. These keep our brain active while we’re awake and then turn off as we are falling asleep.
As we move through these stages of sleep, we are helping our nervous systems to work properly. Each night as we rest, our bodies are actually very hard at work in helping to repair damage and build our immune systems.
Sleep deprivation caused by a range of issues can have serious impacts on your mental and physical wellbeing, which is why there are recommended guidelines for sleep levels at each age group. Without enough sleep, you may develop depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, or become more accident prone.
The Importance of These Five Stages of Sleep
The importance of sleep for humans is undeniable, with a range of benefits to be found for both our body and mind. These 5 stages of sleep each have their own special purpose and benefit whose effects can be felt throughout the day if you are well rested.
By achieving the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, we can ensure we pass through these sleep cycle stages and provide our bodies with enough time to restore and rejuvenate so we’re able to perform our very best the next day.
While research is still uncovering the exact reasons why we need sleep each night, there’s no denying the positive effects which can be felt from a solid night of sleep.