Getting a full 8 hours of sleep every night can sometimes prove challenging, However, getting enough sleep is essential for our bodies to maintain their critical functions, restore energy, repair muscle tissue, and to allow our brains to process new information.

We all know how it feels when sleep gets interrupted, and we end up only a couple hours of shut-eye. The next day, we’re less sharp, focusing is difficult, reaction times are slower than normal, and we may find that we have a looser grip on our emotions. Suffering from consistent sleep deprivation can have adverse effects on the immune system, memory, libido, weight, and other areas of the body and mind.

Between the ages of 18 and 64, experts recommend that between 7 and 9 hours of sleep is ideal. Genetics and the quality of sleep that one typically receives are also factors in how much sleep is needed.

But when it comes to stages of sleep, all humans’ bodies’ natural daily rhythms are regulated by structures in the brain that help determine when we fall asleep and wake up. 

There are two basic types of sleep:  rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (which has three different stages).  Each is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity.  We cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM sleep several times during a typical night, with increasingly longer, deeper REM periods occurring toward morning. 

Stage 1 

non-REM sleep is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep.  During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches.  Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns. 

Stage 2 

non-REM sleep is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep.  Your heartbeat and breathing slow, and muscles relax even further.  Your body temperature drops and eye movements stop.  Brain wave activity slows but is marked by brief bursts of electrical activity.  You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.

Stage 3 

non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning.  It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night.  Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep.  Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to awaken you.  Brain waves become even slower. 

REM sleep 

first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep.  Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids.  Mixed frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness.  Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels.  Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep.  Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams.  As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep.  Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.

Here are a few tips to help improve your sleep:

  • Establishing a regular bedtime routine (continuing throughout the weekend too) trains the body to have high-quality sleep.
  • Not sleeping in the same bed as your pet, as those who do tend to get interrupted often during the night.
  • Cutting out all caffeine, or at least not consuming caffeine in the mid-afternoon or later.
  • Putting electronics down one hour before bed.
  • Not consuming alcohol before bed – it decreases the amount of REM sleep we get, which lowers the quality of our sleep overall.
  • Improving your sleep environment; small changes in our environment can make it easier for us to fall asleep, especially when anxiety is the culprit for being unable to get to sleep as early as we’d like. Try a weighted blanket, eye mask, an essential oil diffuser, heated pad, or play background noise on your phone or smart speaker (ex. rain fall or static) to help calm your senses.

Sources: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/biology-of-sleep-circadian-rhythms-sleep-stages.htm https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep#sleep-deprivation

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