Sleep, great sleep, is one of the best things we can do for our minds and bodies. That said, even though we understand the importance of sleep, actually achieving it isn’t always easy for everyone. In fact, if you’re an adult human, you’ve more than likely had at least the occasional night of tossing and turning while sleep evades you. For some folks, sleep disturbance is minor and rare, but for others it can be quite life altering. That said, learning about the basics of sleep, and some suggestions for how you might improve your sleep patterns is a good idea regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on.
Understanding Sleep Stages
Sleep can be broken down into two main stages known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. About 75-80% of our sleep is categorized as non-REM sleep, and is broken down into four additional stages called N1, N2, N3, and N4.
N1– This stage is characterized by very light sleep, and it typically serves as a bridge to the deeper sleep stages that should follow.
N2– Deeper than N1, this sleep stage is harder to wake from, and makes up about 40 to 50% of a night’s sleep in healthy adults.
N3 and N4– This is the sleep stage in which sleep is the deepest, and is thought to be the stage in which the body restores and rebuilds itself.
Then there is REM sleep, which is characterized by rapid eye movements and the stage in which most dreaming occurs. The heart rate and breathing become less regular, and there is also increased blood flow to the brain. Also interesting fact, our bodies go into a sort of state of relative paralysis which prevents us from trying to physically act out our dreams as they occur. We may also notice during this stage of sleep that our faces, fingers, and legs twitch from time to time, which is totally normal.
The Adult Sleep Cycle
When it comes to adults and healthy sleep, the non-REM and REM sleep stages occur in consistent cycles that are predictable and even. Sleep generally begins with non-REM sleep in which our bodies transition from wakefulness to the N1 stage outlined above. This generally takes 30 minutes or less. Then we pass through a longer period of N2 stage sleep, then into stage N3. Generally about 70 to 90 minutes into sleep is when the first REM sleep period occurs. Then for the rest of the night, REM sleep alternates between the various stages of non-REM sleep, usually in approximately 90 minute cycles.
The positive thing to take away from this is that even folks who have trouble sleeping can still get access to the most restorative stage of sleep. The deepest sleep, N3, typically occurs early in the sleep cycle, so even if you are getting less sleep than is ideal, you are still able to tap into that beneficial stage in which your body recoups.
The Importance of Sleep
We all know that sleep is vital to our health, but when it comes to the importance of sleep, have we really taken time to delve into the whys? Good sleep supports our brains. Sleep boosts our ability to learn, memorize things, and make logical choices in our everyday lives. It also helps to recalibrate the emotional brain circuits which are crucial to helping us navigate and manage future social and psychological scenarios with the necessary composure.
Sleep is also critical for repairing our immune systems, which in turn helps us ward off sickness and infection. Sleep helps regulate appetite, control body weight, lowers blood pressure, and even impacts cardiovascular health.
So now that we better understand sleep cycles, REM sleep, and why this restorative act is so vital to our wellbeing, what do we do with that? Prioritize great sleep. Set a goal to sleep well and get enough sleep each night. And in the meantime, try these tips for falling asleep faster to make the most of those nighttime hours. It’s also important to invest in the best as far as bedding goes. Is it time to upgrade your sleep set up? Check out our full line of custom Flexabed adjustable beds, and start sleeping better now.