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Understanding Your Sleep Cycles

for HealthyBytes

We have often come across the adage, “Early to bed and early to rise makes us healthy, wealthy and wise”. The idea that a good sleep cycle ensures a healthy mind and a healthy body is proven. 

Studies suggest that children and teenagers need approximately 9-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, whereas adults require at least 8 hours of sleep to function correctly. But have you thought about the quality of sleep that you get in these 8 hours? How many times have you woken up in the morning and still felt exhausted, as if you never slept?

The first step to understanding these effects is to decode the functioning of a perfect sleep cycle. While asleep, we go through various sleep stages, which collectively determine our health and well-being.

During your sleep cycle, your body will go through 5 different stages of sleep. The first four stages are your Non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and the last is REM sleep.

Stage 1:

This stage lasts only for several minutes, during which your body starts to ease down. The mind relaxes, and there is a gradual transition from wakefulness to a sleepy state. Stage 1 is the prime stage in the sleep cycle where your breathing and heartbeat slow down, and muscles relax with periodic twitches.

Stage 2:

This stage lasts roughly 10-25 minutes, where an individual observes light sleep and gradually progresses towards the period of deep sleep in stage 3. During this stage, the breathing rate and the heartbeat slow down even further, eye movements stop and there is a significant drop in the body temperature. The brain produces sleep spindles, which is a sudden spike in brain waves.

Stages 3 & 4:

In this stage of Deep Sleep, also known as delta sleep, the body is entirely at ease, and it is not easy to wake up someone during this stage. These stages are a critical phase of the entire sleep cycle as it prompts restorative growth. The breathing rate and heartbeat slow down to their lowest, brain activities reduce considerably, and the body further eases down.

Stage 5:

Stage 5 is REM sleep, which occurs roughly after 90 minutes of falling asleep. The brain activities pick up, eye movement begins, and breathing and heart rate spike up to almost waking levels. You can also call this stage the Dream state, as most dreams occur during this phase.

While you sleep at night, you will experience 4-5 such cycles, and as you progress through them, your body will spend less time in deeper sleep stages of 3 & 4 and more time in the REM phase. An ideal sleep should have almost 20-25% of the total sleeping time in the REM stage. If an individual sleeps for 7-8 hours, they should, on average, spend 90 minutes of their time in REM sleep. 

When these cycles are broken and left incomplete frequently, we often feel tired, even after just waking up.  

Understanding sleep stages and how swinging between them impacts one’s well-being is essential to gain insights into that individual’s health conditions. Doctors carry out non-invasive sleep studies to study the mood, energy levels, and overall health of an individual. Most sleep disorders go underdiagnosed and impact in the long run. Self-diagnosing and understanding how you swing between these stages can help you tackle various symptoms that are ideally difficult to recognize.

Further to studying your sleep cycle, you can adopt the following simple measures to improve the quality of your sleep: –

– Make a schedule and stick to it.

– Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol around bedtime. It can impact your sleep schedule

– Eat at least 2hours before going to bed

– A key strategy to have a good sleep at night is meditation. Even 5-10 minutes of daily meditation can work wonders for you

– Reduce screen time and try keeping phone/electronic devices on silent while sleeping.

– Try to avoid bright lights at least 60 to 90 minutes before sleep. We will further discuss improving your sleep quality through various conventional and unconventional measures to practice in posts to come