Apr 30, 2020

Do You Want to Sleep Better? Understand the Sleep Cycle

Do You Want to Sleep Better? Understand the Sleep Cycle


There's more to sleep than jumping in bed and closing your eyes. Sleep is more complicated and active than we think. Contrary to popular belief, the body (brain) is busy at work during sleep. When you fall asleep, the brain goes through stages of activity (alternates between two phases of sleep, namely deep sleep (or slow-wave) and REM phases. The sleep cycle, also known as the REM-NREM cycle, sleep-dream cycle, or ultradian sleep cycle, takes one to two hours.


The sleep cycle: Stages


Light stage sleep


The first stage of sleep can happen with a few seconds to minutes. The brain produces alpha and theta waves during the first stage of sleep and slows down eye movements. The light stage sleep introduces sleep briefly. It lasts a few minutes (up to 7 minutes). During this stage, you can be woken up easily. Brief naps fall under this stage.


Fairly light sleep


When you take a power nap, you enter the second stage of sleep. The brain wave frequency rises during this stage, producing what is referred to as sleep spindles - small bursts of brain activity ranging between 11 and 16 Hz lasting 0.5 to 1.5 seconds, and then the activity slows down. When taking a power nap, you should wake up during this stage or risk falling asleep completely.


Beginning of deep sleep


The beginning of deep sleep or slow-wave is characterized by slow delta waves, as the name suggests. It is harder to wake up when you enter deep sleep because the body is less responsive to external stimuli. The brain produces more delta waves at the beginning of the deep sleep stage, plunging you into a deeper sleep. The body uses this stage to repair tissues and muscles, boost immune system function, stimulate growth as well as build energy to be used up when you wake up.


REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep


In a typical sleep cycle, a person enters REM sleep approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. This stage can last for an hour. Individuals who don't have sleeping disorders have 5-6 REM cycles every night. REM sleep is the final sleeping stage. During the REM phase, your brain is more active.

Most dreams occur during this stage. It is characterized by jerking eye movements hence the name REM. The heart and breathing rate also increases, and breathing becomes shallow, fast, and irregular. REM sleep is critical for learning and memory since this is when the brain consolidates and processes all the information collected from the previous day and stores in the long-term memory.


It's worth noting that the sleep cycle is dictated by factors such as age. The cycle of infants is different from that of adults. Your sleeping cycle can also be affected by your diet, light, stress, sleeping disorders, and overall health. If you have difficulties falling asleep or tend to wake up easily during deep sleep, there are things you can do to get your sleep cycle back on track.


How to get your sleep cycle back on track


Track your sleep


While having trouble falling asleep and/or waking up easily late at night are obvious signs that you have an irregular sleep cycle, you need to track your sleep to get to the bottom of the problem. If you start developing sleep problems, you should consider investing in sleep tracking devices to identify the genesis of your problem. There are many good sleep trackers available in the market today that can track your sleep duration, sleep quality, sleep phases, environmental factors, lifestyle factors, and more. Such information is critical when you want to improve your sleep.


Avoid naps


Naps are popularized in many instances; however, they tend to do more harm than good to your sleep cycle. You must program your internal body clock to be able to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time on a daily basis. Naps can disrupt the internal body clock if the timing and duration isn't right. While short naps can eliminate sleepiness and offer other benefits like restoring cognitive function, long naps can make it impossible for you to fall asleep when you need to.


Reduce or eliminate exposure to blue-light hours at night


There is irrefutable evidence that electronic devices that emit blue light interrupt the sleep cycle. Exposure to smartphone screens, among other sources of blue light like LED lights, is linked to poor sleep. This explains why sleeping problems have skyrocketed in the past decade characterized by increased use of gadgets and LED lighting. You shouldn't use your smartphone in your bedroom just before going to bed. It's also important to invest in blackout curtains that block external blue light from streetlights or security lights. You should sleep in total darkness to trigger the release of melatonin - the hormone responsible for triggering sleep.


Prioritize sleeping comfort


You can track your sleep, avoid naps, and sleep in pitch darkness but still have a poor sleeping cycle just because you have a bad mattress or pillow. Your mattress and pillows should give you proper support and comfort. It is impossible to enjoy deep sleep when you sleep on a mattress or use pillows that don't soothe your pressure points as you sleep. Before you blame your irregular sleep cycle on sleeping disorders like insomnia, make sure you have a good mattress and pillows. If you don't want to incur a huge cost, you can buy mattress toppers to enhance the comfort of your old mattress. It also helps to have some fancy sleeping socks and climate control gadgets to create the perfect environment for falling asleep. While preferences may differ, your bedroom temperature is supposed to be 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit for you to enjoy a normal sleep cycle.



In a nutshell, sleep is more complex than we think. While the physical body is at rest, the brain is busy at work. To sleep better and allow vital functions such as learning and memory, you must understand the sleep cycle. The genesis of most sleeping problems can be traced to an irregular sleep cycle. Luckily, you can monitor and get your cycle back on track by considering the home remedies above.

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