We tend to think about sleep in terms of how many hours we get (probably not enough). But the amount of zzz's isn't the only thing that factors into sleep quality.
What we forget about sleep is that it's supposed to be restorative, which means achieving four separate sleep cycles. Each one plays their part to ensure we wake up refreshed and on the right side of the bed.
Sometimes we just don't achieve all four sleep stages or cycles. It can indicate a sleeping disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea when it becomes a nightly thing.
Let's take a quick look at the stages of sleep so you can take a nap.
4 Stages of Sleep
Most people go through four sleep stages, including three NREM and one REM. And the average human cycles through the four states of sleep four to six times a night.
But it's important to know that sleep isn't uniform or the same for everyone.
Stage 1 of sleep is when we relax and start to get drowsy, lasting about ten minutes.
During the first stage, your eyes may slowly roll, and any little noise may wake you up.
If you do manage to stay asleep, your brain waves will begin to slow down. You may experience muscle spasms and sudden jerks.
It's common to get a feeling of falling during stage 1 sleep.
Stage 2 is when you actually fall asleep and makes up 40% to 60% of someone's sleep time.
Your eyes will stop slow-rolling, your body temperature will drop, and your heartbeat will slow down.
The deeper and deeper you fall into stage 2, the slower the brain waves get.
During this stage, your brain will bust into a rapid activity called sleep spindles. The brain slows back down after brain spindles occur.
The restorative part of sleep happens in stage 3 and only makes up between 5% and 20% of someone's sleep cycle. Kids and teenagers spend more time in stage three than adults.
Stage 3 is when the immune system strengthens, body tissue repairs and regrows, and muscle and bone build. Parasomnias such as night terrors and sleepwalking happen during Stage 3 sleep.
You're harder to wake up during Stage 3, and if you do awaken, you probably will feel some grogginess and disorientation.
The delta waves that happen during deep sleep prepare the brain for stage 4 sleep (REM).
Stage 4 is commonly referred to as Stage R or REM sleep.
Of all four stages, it is the deepest sleep and when the brain is at its most active.
REM sleep is the shortest in the first cycle and gets longer with each one. The average person experience between five and six REM cycles during sleep.
During stage 4, your eyes may move rapidly, your blood pressure and heart rate increase, and your breathing may get a little irregular.
And if you've wondered why most people don't act out their dreams, it's because during REM sleep, arm and leg muscles become paralyzed. (Nope, not scary at all.)
REM sleep is when our brains process the information from the day and stores the things it believes is important to our long-term memory.
What is the most important sleep stage?
Stages 3 and 4 (REM) are the most important because they're vital to physical restoration, growth, and hormonal balance.
Without deep sleep, a person can experience depression, physical illness, weight gain, and can premature wrinkles.
The next things to go without Stage 3 and 4 sleep are cognitive processes like concentrating and socializing.
How much sleep should you get?
According to most studies, we should get between 1.6 to 2.25 hours of deep sleep per snooze, which equals 20% to 25%.
The younger you are, the more stage 3 and 4 sleep you require.
Remember that not everyone needs the same amount of sleep.
You can improve sleep hygiene to get better quality sleep.
- Get to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Find a quality pillow that supports your body and protects your skin from premature aging.
- Avoid televisions, cell phones, and other electronics an hour before bed.
- Keep the bedroom relaxing, quiet, dark, and at the temperature you best sleep at, typically the cooler the better...aim for 65 degrees.
If you feel you're not getting enough sleep regularly, have a chat with your doctor about possible sleep disorders, including insomnia.
Yes, sleep quality is about how many hours, but sleep stages and cycles play an even larger role.
Stages 1 and 2 are short and include you dozing off and falling asleep.
Stages 3 and 4 (REM) are the most vital stages of sleep because they restore physical and mental health.
Try improving your habits around sleep, including finding a pillow that eliminates pressure wrinkles and offers the proper posture support.
Now stop reading this and go to bed!