A good night’s rest often depends on the brain’s ability to experience the various stages of sleep – more specifically, the deeper, latter stages. But how does each stage benefit us and how do we experience each?
In order to take a more in-depth look at sleep and why it is an essential part of our body’s ability to function properly, we need to understand what happens to the brain while we sleep.
During the beginning stage of sleep, you are still relatively awake and alert. Your brain is still producing Beta waves, which are small and fast. As you start to relax the brain slows down and produces Alpha waves. You will sometimes have vivid sensations like falling or hearing things that aren’t really occurring. Most of us have experienced a myoclonic jerk in this stage, which is an involuntary muscle movement.
There are five stages of sleep that are all important to getting that restful night’s sleep:
1. Stage One- A light sleep that transitions you between being awake and asleep. The brain slows down and produces Theta waves. Stage 1 usually lasts from five-ten minutes.
2. Stage Two- The brain produces bursts of rapid rhythmic activity known as sleep spindles. Body temperature decreases and heart rate slows down. This stage lasts approximately 20 minutes.
3. Stage Three-The brain slows down even more and Delta waves begin to emerge. This is a transitional period between light sleep and very deep sleep.
4. Stage Four-This is the deep sleep stage that lasts approximately 30 minutes. If you’ve ever woken during this stage, you often times have no idea where you are even in your own home. Bed-wetting and sleepwalking occur during stage four.
5. Stage Five- Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This stage is also known as Paradoxical sleep because the brain and other systems are more active, but the muscles become more relaxed. Dreaming occurs because of the increased brain activity, but voluntary muscles become virtually paralyzed.
The stages do not go in order. You will cycle through stages one through four and then stages three and two are repeated before REM occurs. The first cycle of REM usually happens 90 minutes after falling asleep and may only last a short period of time before returning to stage two. These cycles repeat four or five times throughout the night with REM increasing each time up to an hour in length.
What does a typical night of sleep look like for you – restless and short or deep and relaxed?