The Sleep Cycle Explained

It’s hard to believe that you go through five distinct stages of sleep in one night. Even more incredible is that these stages are repeated several times each night, about every 90 minutes. This continuous sequence is known as the sleep cycle and it has an important impact on your health and wellbeing.

Stage One Sleep: Lightest Sleep

A light sleep. The point at which you may be drifting off and can be awakened easily. Eye movement slows and muscles relax.

Ever had the sensation where you’re falling, then jolt awake? That’s because in this light stage of sleep many people experience muscle contractions that leave you with the sensation of falling, closely followed by a knee-jerk reaction, also known as a hypnic jerk.

Many experts believe this is due to the slowing down of the nervous system during this stage of sleep, but no one knows exactly what causes this sensation. Although they are very common, and nothing to worry about, if you’re experiencing a lot throughout your sleep cycle each night, consider cutting back on your caffeine intake, and using meditative relaxation techniques. This could help you to smoothly fall into stage one of the sleep cycle without experiencing sudden hypnic jerks.

Stage Two Sleep: Light Sleep

This stage in your sleep pattern is still considered a light sleep by the experts. Although it’s at this point that your brain waves slow down, heart rate drops, and body temperature falls a little. All of this is in preparation for an even deeper stage of sleep.

If your body temperature is a little too warm or too cold this can affect your ability to fall into a deeper slumber. Consider environmental factors that could be affecting your body temperature and your ability to fall into a soothing sleep. Is your duvet too heavy and stuffy? Or is your bedding causing you to sweat, making it difficult to settle into a deeper stage of sleep?

Consider the sleep benefits of wool – it helps you to regulate your body temperature as you sleep and draws moisture away from the body leaving you cool yet cosy.

Stage Three Sleep: Slow Wave Sleep

Also known as ‘slow wave sleep’, this stage in your sleep patterns is the point at which brain waves slow right down becoming delta waves. These slow brain waves will be interspersed with short, sharp bursts of faster brain activity or beta waves. If awoken in this stage of sleep, you can appear confused due to the slowing of brain activity making you overly groggy. Waking during this stage of sleep certainly won’t leave you feeling refreshed so if there is something disturbing you, you may want to make some changes to your sleep hygiene or perhaps your bedtime schedule.

Are you surrounded by electronics in your bedroom? Consider removing smartphones and tablet devices from your bedroom – the blue-based light featured on screens can have a detrimental effect on your sleep patterns as it interferes with your circadian clock. Circadian rhythms are our 24-hour cycle and these can be affected by light, causing your body clock to shift, throwing off your regular sleeping pattern and leaving you feeling tired.

Stage Four Sleep: Deep Sleep

The most restorative and rejuvenating of all sleep stages. It’s at this point in the sleep cycle that your blood pressure will drop and breathing deepens, helping blood to circulate throughout your muscles. Your brain will slow right down, only producing delta waves. This makes it difficult to wake in this particular stage of sleep. During this stage tissue repair occurs, helping your body to reinvigorate itself. Growth hormones are also released making this a vital stage of sleep for babies and young children, especially when it comes to muscle development.

Stage Five Sleep: REM Sleep

Stage five is where dreams are made. This stage of sleep is also known as REM sleep, when rapid eye movement occurs. Throughout REM sleep, your brain and nervous system kick back into action. The brain activity increases, blood pressure builds back up, and breathing quickens. However, your muscles do not follow suit. During REM sleep it is not uncommon for muscles in the arms and legs to go through short periods of paralysis. Many experts think that this is nature’s way of stopping us from becoming as physically active as we are mentally in this particular stage of sleep.

Occurring approximately every 90 minutes, REM sleep provides us with a boost of energy leaving us feeling invigorated upon waking.

Is your sleep rhythm out of sync? Consider wool bedding to help facilitate steady sleep cycle, leaving you refreshed in the morning.

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