Getting enough sleep each night is something we are told we need starting from a very young age. You need your rest. However, the quality of the sleep you’re getting is just as important as the quantity. We are going to share with you all the details of your sleep cycle so that you can better understand what a healthy sleep cycle looks like. The better you understand your sleep cycle, the more likely you will be able to get higher quality sleep as well as more sleep. Keep reading to get our Complete Guide To Your Sleep Cycle.
Sleep Cycle – What Is a Sleep Cycle?
There are 5 different stages of sleep. When you sleep your body goes through all 5 stages of sleep and then starts over again, this is your sleep cycle.
During a night of sleep, you cycle through these different stages. As you reach the lightest phase of sleep you either wake up, or start the cycle over again. Ideally, you should go through the entire sleep cycle 4 to 6 times per 24-hour period. While naps can be helpful if you need to squeeze in an extra cycle or two. Typically, the human body functions best when you get a full night of rest.
What is REM and NREM Sleep?
Before we dive deep into the different stages of your sleep cycle, it is important to know what REM and NREM sleep is. As well as understanding the difference between the two. To simplify it all, REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement.
REM sleep is a deep stage of sleep when your eye will move rapidly when closed as you sleep. This is a signal that you have reached a specific stage of your sleep cycle. While the lighter phases of sleep are NREM or Non-REM sleep stages.
Stages of Your Sleep Cycle
The first stage of sleep is the lightest phase when you are just beginning to drift off to dream land. During the first stage of sleep, you are often easily woken up as you are really just entering sleep at this point. This is considered one of the non-REM sleep stages. This phase of sleep only typically lasts for a few minutes, sometimes even shorter if you are particularly tired.
You are typically still somewhat awake and you can feel yourself drifting in and out of consciousness and you slip into sleep. Your breathing has started to sleep but is generally still rather normal.
Next up is of course, sleep stage 2. This is the first stage where most people truly consider themselves to be fully asleep. Stage 2 of your sleep cycle is when your muscles being to relax, your breathing slows, your heartrate slows, your body temperature lowers and you are truly asleep. You will find that it is harder to be woken up during this phase of sleep. This phase is still before you start to have any crazy dreams and is still a Non-REM phase of sleep.
Your brain waves have begun to slow down and you are really getting some true rest. If you were to take a powernap this is the phase of sleep you would want to reach and wake up during in order to wake up feeling refreshed. To do this you would want to keep your nap around 20 – 25 minutes long or shorter. If you sleep too much longer you will enter phase 3 and end up waking up feeling more tired than before.
Stage 3 & 4:
The sleep stages 3 and 4 are the final two stages of Non-REM sleep. The third is when you truly enter deep sleep. During this phase your brain creates slower waves often called delta waves. Unlike stage one and two, it is incredibly difficult to be disturbed and woken up during this phase of sleep.
While the fourth sleep stage is the final Non-REM sleep stage. Contrary to popular belief, stage 4 is the deepest stage of sleep. Yes, technically a deeper sleep than REM sleep! During stage 4, your brain is producing even more delta waves. It is during this stages that your body is going through a restorative process. It helps repair and grow your muscles, strengthen your immune system, along with a long list of general repair and maintenance on your body. After this physically restorative phase of sleep comes the most well known type of sleep, REM sleep.
Stage 5 (REM Sleep):
The 5th stage of sleep is your REM cycle. It typically takes around 90 minutes of sleep until you reach this stage. Many consider this to be the most vital stage of sleep in order for your body and mind to do everything it needs to do.
There are some rather fascinating things that happen during REM sleep. This is when you will experience your most vivid dreams. It is also when your brain moves new information into your memory. However, a lot more happens than just these two things.
For one, during REM sleep your brain goes over problems you have worked on throughout the day over and over (very quickly). For example if you were working on a guitar solo and you keep making a mistake at the same place, your brain will work through that hiccup over and over and over again smoothing out the mistakes.
You may find the following day after enough sleep that you no longer experience the same mistake any longer. It is as if you are rehearsing or practicing that skill in hyper speed while you sleep. It is things like this that has so many people obsessed with REM sleep!
Your Sleep Cycle Repeats!
When we focus on the different stages of your sleep cycle, it is sometimes misunderstood that you only go through the sleep cycle once. When actually a healthy person getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep will go through this cycle 5 to 6 times per night.
The cycle does change slightly throughout the night though. Your REM cycles get longer and take up a higher percentage of the cycle as the night progresses. Which means if you are waking up earlier than usual, you my be cutting out a higher percentage of your REM sleep than any other stage of sleep. This can leave you feeling significantly more tired than usual, even if you did not cut out a significant number of hours from your typical night of sleep.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
The amount of sleep you get every night is actually rather important in order to get through your sleep cycles the right amount of times for optimal rest and recovery. It is typically recommended that adults get at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Like we mentioned previously, you sleep cycle does change throughout the night. You will get the majority of your REM sleep in the last few hours before you wake up in the morning. Cutting your night short by getting less sleep will greatly reduce the amount of REM sleep you get each night.
What Is Your Circadian Rhythm?
Your circadian rhythm is essentially your bodies internal clock. It collects inputs and patterns from your life and translates that information into when it should pump out hormones to make you fall asleep, or wake up, have energy or focus, and so on. This inputs can vary from when you’re exposed to daylight/blue light.
As well as when you eat, exercise, nap, and so on. The more you still to a set schedule, the stronger your circadian rhythm will get. Which essentially means it will be easier to go to sleep, wake up, and conserver energy for when you need it most. A strong circadian rhythm often also means healthier sleep and a great sleep cycle too!
How To Improve Your Sleep Cycle:
If you are wanting to make sure that you have a healthy sleep cycle, we have some tips for you. Make sure you are getting enough sleep each and every night. If you need to wake up early, try to get to bed early in order to not cut your rest short. Stop drinking alcohol before bed. While it is commonly believed that a night cap will help you sleep deeply, it actually stunts your sleep cycle.
Instead of getting the right amount of REM sleep, you will stay in stage 3 & 4 for much longer. This will actually leave you waking up feeling more tired than you would otherwise. The more consistent your sleep schedule is, the more in sync you will be with your circadian rhythm. All of which will improv your sleep cycle and help you to wake up feeling well rested and ready to take on the day.
Your sleep cycle is quite simply, the rhythm of your sleep. While it may some rather complicated when you get into the details of your brain waves etc. It is actually just the natural rhythm of sleep. If you are taking care of yourself and sticking to a sleep schedule that works for you, then your sleep cycle should be strong as well. We hope you found this guide to your sleep cycle informative, as well as our tips on how to get better sleep.
If you have any questions, we would love to help answer them for you! Simply head over to our Contact Us page and send us a message. We would be happy to help in any way we can.