Each night, when you sleep, you actually pass through five stages of sleep. Find out what they are, and why they’re important.
Sleep is a complicated state. Once upon a time, it was believed that when people fell asleep their brains and bodies would ‘shut down’, allowing them to recover from their daily activities. What we know now is that a lot happens while we sleep, and every stage of sleep is important.
What are the stages of sleep?
There are two basic types of sleep — rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep, which has four stages. These five stages of sleep are known as a sleep cycle. Typically, you’ll move through these cycles several times on any given night, with your REM Sleep becoming increasingly longer and deeper towards morning.
As soon as you nod off, you enter Stage One sleep. This is a brief introduction to sleep which usually lasts up to seven minutes. In Stage One, you are in a light sleep, meaning you can be easily woken.
Stage Two is also fairly light sleep. Your heart rate slows down and your body temperature drops, in preparation for you to enter deep sleep.
Stages Three and Four:
These stages of sleep are the beginning of deep sleep. When you’re in these stages, it will be harder to wake you as you’re less responsive to external stimuli. Stages Three and Four are also restorative phases of sleep, when your body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development, boosts immune function, and garners energy for the next day.
REM Sleep usually occurs around 90 minutes after you initially fall asleep. Each REM stage can last up to an hour, with most adults having five to six REM cycles each night. In this final phase of the sleep cycle, your brain becomes more active. This is the phase where most dreaming occurs. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side, your heart rate and blood pressure increase and your breathing becomes faster. REM Sleep plays a vital role in learning and memory function, because this is when your brain consolidates and processes information from the day before. It’s during this phase where information is stored in your long-term memory.
Why we need all stages of sleep
As you can see, each stage of sleep serves its purpose. Early stages of sleep prepare us for deeper sleep. Deeper sleep is the restorative sleep which is required for us to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. If you fail to get enough deep sleep, you’ll wake up tired, be more likely to get sick and will take longer to recover from illness or physical exertion. Deep sleep is especially important for people who exercise regularly as it’s during this phase that the body repairs muscles and tissues, and promotes muscle growth. REM Sleep is required for us to process and remember information, and is especially important if you’re a student constantly learning new things, or in a job that requires you to think strategically or creatively.
How to get adequate sleep
Adequate sleep isn’t just about how long you sleep, but ensuring you get the right kind of sleep. It’s recommended that the average adult gets 7-9 hours sleep each night for optimal health. Aiming for this amount of sleep will help ensure that you move through each sleep stage sufficiently, thereby gaining the most benefits each stage of sleep has to offer.
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