The Five Stages Of Sleep You Need Each Night
The perfect night’s sleep might seem elusive, but it’s actually pretty straightforward – at least if you look at the science. In order to sleep well and wake feeling rested, your body needs to pass through the five stages of sleep, completing between four and six full cycles before your alarm goes off. So what are these five crucial sleep stages – and how can you fit them all in each night?
The first stage of sleep is incredibly light. You may drift in and out of consciousness, and might still be faintly aware of sounds or movement around you. During this stage, your muscles will start to relax – but sudden muscle contractions might create that unmistakable ‘falling’ sensation that jerks you awake. This is totally normal, and all just part of the relaxation process.
The second stage of sleep is more restful. Your brain waves slow, and your body begins to prepare for deep sleep. During this stage, the heart rate slows down and your body temperature drops. You’re still in one of the lighter stages of sleep at this point.
The third stage of sleep is vital for your mental and physical health. Your brain waves have slowed, and it would be much harder for you to be disturbed by external stimuli. This is the first stage of deep sleep – and it’s only getting deeper from here.
Stage four is when your body starts to get the rest that it needs. Your brain is producing delta waves only – these are extremely slow brain waves that are enormously restorative. If your brain doesn’t produce enough delta waves during sleep, you certainly won’t wake up feeling well-rested and alert.
The final stage of sleep is known as REM sleep – or ‘rapid eye movement’ sleep. In this stage, the body remains immobile but the brain is extremely active. During this stage, your brain consolidates and processes information from the day before, storing it in your long-term memory. As you may have guessed, with so much brain activity going on, this stage of sleep is when you dream.
To get the best night’s sleep possible, your body needs to complete this full cycle between four and six times. Each cycle can last between ninety minutes and two hours – and the longer you’ve been asleep, the longer your REM sleep stages last. Your final REM stages can last for up to an hour, which is why it’s so common to wake up in the middle of a particularly vivid dream.
So what’s the best way to ensure you’re getting through enough sleep cycles each night? By sticking to a schedule. By sleeping for roughly the same amount of time each night, your body can settle into a routine and take you through each of the sleep stages before your alarm goes off. You should begin to wake naturally at the end of your final REM stage, feeling alert, rested and ready for the day ahead.