The Stages of Sleep & Tips to Improve Yours
If sleep were easy, we would all do it, yes? But we don’t – not successfully. Sleep is a complex process. The human brain (not missing an opportunity to overcomplicate things) actually gives us 5 unique stages of sleep.
Muscles are relaxing, brain activity is slowing, and you are getting very sleepy. Stage 1 is the lightest stage of sleep, so it's is easily disrupted. If you wake up here, you may think you were never asleep.
Since our sleepy hormone melatonin is kicking into gear from 9pm onwards, it’s a good idea to start your bed time rituals by then. You will be in sync with the flow of the day and more likely to reap the benefits of a short, sharp and shiny initial stage 1 to reach those juicy later stages more easily when you do hit the sack. Soaking in a magnesium gets that bod relaxing and helps to limit muscle spasms that may wake you. Cutting your screen time to avoid overstimulated brain activity after the 9pm mark is also advised.
We are now officially asleep. Some slower eye movement happens here and your brain waves, body temperature and heart rate continue to drop. A couple of unique players called "Sleep Spindles and K-Complexes" get to shine in Stage 1 these brain activations offer security, preventing external stimulus.
Melatonin production slows down towards morning which means we tend to spend more time in the lighter sleep stages the closer it gets to sunrise. Ensuring that your sleep space is darkened by black out blinds or wearing an eye mask (Our Mulberry silk ones are best for the delicate eye area - shop them here) to avoid unnecessary waking as well as limiting noise with ear plugs can prevent the body from waking up completely during the early hours.
Stage 3 + 4 (Deep Sleep):
Welcome to the most restorative portion of non-REM sleep. Slow brain waves called Delta Waves make up less than 50% of the Stage 3 brain activity and more than half in Stage 4. These mean we’re not likely to responds to external stimulus and we’re also not dreaming, so Delta is a pretty mysterious place to be. It’s where the magic happens: we’re healing, restoring, growing and the immune system is strengthened. Your brain refreshes itself for more learning tomorrow. In stage 3 Deep Sleep, memories made that day are distributed from the short-term pick-up que to the longer-term parking bay. So many crucial activities happening in deep sleep, which may explain why we need more time than usual here after a period of deprivation – it’s a priority.
We’re also on the home ground of the funny, scary, inconvenient and downright dangerous. Parasomnias such as sleep talking, night terrors, bed wetting or sleep walking will happen now if you’re prone to them. Fun fact: kids hang out in deep sleep much longer than adults, creating space for more of those nocturnal behaviors that terrify exhausted parents into googling ‘signs my child is possessed’.
The first few sleep cycles of the night tend to contain relatively longer Deep Sleep stages. These decrease in duration or disappear completely as the sleeper carries on. The average sleep cycle is around the 90 to 110-minute mark so we can actually time the first few Deep Sleep cycles to match our melatonin max out by getting to bed near the 11pm mark. This leads to get better, more restorative sleep. Stress hormones may impact on memory, so working on stress and anxiety is crucial if you wish to reap the full benefits of Deep Sleep memory work.
Also known as Rapid Eye Movement, the dreamiest of sleep states. This includes rapid eye movement while your limbs tend to be paralyzed at this point.
The lowest body temperatures occur at approximately 4:30am. Temperature regulation is not on the menu during REM sleep, so ensuring your space isn’t too hot or cold overnight will help to prevent rude awakenings in the early hours. Apparently waking during REM will tamper with the flow next time you’re asleep, skewing the scales towards more REM time till you catch up. This means less Deep Sleep healing, so it really is important to make sure your sleep space is perfection on the temperature gauge.
These are a few sleeping tips and tricks by the National Sleep Federation to ensure a better nights sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body's clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
- If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can't fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
- Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
- Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows, and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens (Our Oxford Mulberry Silk Pillowcases are naturally hypoallergenic) that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
- Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
- Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping,avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
- If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
- If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a Sleep Diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.