Discover What Happens When You Sleep

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What if I told you that I could change your life? That you could be happier, healthier, and more productive by merely turning out early each night. This is the importance of sleep. It plays a significant role in the body and brain. Taking the initiative to understand your sleep patterns can change your life forever. 

Everyone spends at least a third of their time on sleep and sometimes even longer if you are under six years. It plays a major role in the function of all tissues and systems of the body. Lack of sleep results in an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. Other potential problems can include depression, lower sex drive, and obesity. 

Sleep is important in the way that eating is essential. Without food, we would die, and the same applies to sleep. It makes our body function and our neurons connect. However, unlike sleep, the chemical processes of eating are clearly understood. Tracking your cycle for the ideal amount of sleep begins with understanding it. Below is your guide to sleep cycles.

The Study of Sleep:

The long felt question of why we sleep has been debated for a long time. Whether it started with the dream theories of the ancient Greeks and Romans, or continued with the recent era of brain imaging techniques. There were unanswered questions either way.

The first real answers began in the 1930s when Loomis and his colleagues took a new approach to understand sleep. They started an experiment in which they did overnight EEG recordings. They found regular changes in sleep patterns but were unable to distinguish them completely. 

It was not until the 1950s and 60s when sleep stages became truly defined. In 1953, availability for an appropriate imaging technique finally became available. A notice of the rapid rolling of the eyes, brought about the name REM (Rapid Eye Movement). This is the stage where you dream, and quickly brought on interest in popular American culture.

Several years later, they would define the stages of sleep based on brain waves and breathing. There are three more stages in our sleep cycle, including stages 1, 2, and 3. There is a debated fourth stage too, which is characterized by extremely slow brain waves. However, it is so similar to stage 3, that it can generally be lumped together into one stage of deep sleep.

What are the Stages of Sleep?

Sleep cycles make up the duration of our sleep. Once we shut our eyes, there are two types of sleep. These are Non-Rem (NREM) and REM sleep. NREM is generally characterized by slower breathing and less brain activity. While REM is the opposite, with brain waves closer to our wakeful state.

We pass through 3 to 5 cycles each night, with each one lasting anywhere from 90 to 110 minutes. The shortest cycle of the night is the first, while continuing to pass through 3 to 5 each night. 

Differences in brain activity and roles characterize each stage of sleep. They are each important in their way, and help make you a healthier person. Deep sleep plays a role in muscle and brain regeneration, while REM is a form of daily reflection. Additionally, Recovery sleep is necessary when sleep is put off for a while.

How Many Stages of Sleep Are There?

There are 5 stages of sleep. These include the four stages of NREM, and REM itself. The stages of NREM follow a pattern of getting increasingly deeper. This includes lower heartbeat and blood pressure. Another symptom of deep sleep are alpha brain waves.

sleep cycle

N1 is the lightest sleep, sometimes acting as a transition between wakefulness and rest. N2 is a deeper form of light sleep while taking up 50% of your total sleep time. Finally, there is deep sleep. This is the N3 and N4 stage of sleep. They are about identical, with slightly slower brain waves during N4.

The Flow of Sleep:

Sleep patterns change cyclically throughout the night. One does not switch to REM immediately after the N3 stage of sleep. Rather, the body must adjust to much more rapid brain waves. So a cycle would flow as follows: N1, N2, N3, N2, N1, REM. This means that the majority of your sleep is spent in N2, with only 10 – 15% in restorative sleep. However, more recovery sleep is necessary when sleep is put off for a while.

Stage 1:

Shortly after hitting your pillow, stage one sleep follows within moments. It is normally shallow sleep, and lasting no more than seven minutes. As the lightest of NREM sleep, outside distractions often cause awakenings.

The brain rocks your body to sleep with high amplitude theta waves. These are very slow brain waves, which relax your entire body. Sometimes other symptoms such as hypnic jerks (abrupt muscle spasms), or a sense of falling can occur.

Stage 2:

This is the first stage of defined NREM sleep. (Though it is still considered a form of light sleep). You become less aware of your surroundings, making awakenings less common. The body temperature drops, followed by a decrease in breathing and heartbeat.

The brain begins producing rhythmic brain waves known as sleep spindles and K-complex structures. These brain waves are not fully understood, but are believed to be a signal of stable sleep. Some theories claim that they are similar to a sound machine. They make patterned rhythms to protect the body from awakenings.

Stage 3 and Stage 4:

This is the deepest of NREM sleep. The brain produces delta (slow) waves, creating the most restorative stage of your sleep cycle. Awakenings during this stage are rare, and would cause sleep drunkenness. This means you would be in such a state of grogginess, that it would be dangerous to drive a car.

Parasomnias can happen during this stage. These are characterized by undesirable behavior, showing up in the forms of night terrors, sleepwalking, and bedwetting. This is often caused by a sudden arousal from deep sleep. The motor centers, but not the higher centers, are awakened.

Deep sleep is very restorative. The brain resets for learning the next day. The immune system restores itself, and human health hormones are released. A drug called GHB was once used by bodybuilders to lengthen their time in deep sleep. They found that the restorative properties were very helpful for muscle building and repair.

REM:

This is when most of your dreaming occurs. It is known as rapid eye movement, for the quick motion of the eyes. Brain waves are just as rapid as during the day, often reflecting on the events of that day. The body is temporarily paralyzed during this stage, making it impossible to act out the depictions in your dreams.

During this stage, the heart rate and blood pressure increases. Males develop erections, and the body loses its ability to stabilize body temperature. When woken during Rem, sleep inertia occurs. This causes a high sense of sleepiness, that can sometimes last hours after you awake.

At the start of the night, less time is spent in REM sleep. However about halfway through, REM sleep takes on much more of a priority. The NREM sleep becomes lighter, and the REM sleep becomes longer in duration. Normally a person experiences 3 – 5 REM stages throughout the night.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Getting the appropriate amount of sleep is very important for your health. It improves the function of your organs and tissues. In addition to preparing your brain for learning for the next day. The amount of sleep you need differs depending on what age you are. It also plays a different role depending on what stage of development you’re in. Below depicts the differences between age and sleep:

Newborn (0 - 4 months)

newbornNewborns do not have a circadian rhythm yet, and as such they go through several phases of (polyphasic) sleep. These phases normally last between 2.4 and 4 hours. Normally, they sleep anywhere from 14 to 17 hours per night.

Newborns do not experience distinctive sleep waves, but they do experience phases of active and quiet sleep. The active stage is their form of REM sleep, while the quiet stage is the NREM. However, a key difference between newborns and fully developed people is that babies move during REM sleep. It is not until later that the limbs paralyze during REM.

Infants (4 months - 1 year):

infantsThis is when the brain begins forming distinct sleep stages. Infants generally start forming sleeping routines at this age, which include 2 to 3 naps per day. An infant generally sleeps 12 to 15 hours each day.

Toddlers (1 year - 2 years):

toddler

By the time a child is a toddler, their sleeping patterns are fully developed. They spend a quarter of their time in deep sleep, and another quarter in REM. This is a higher percentage of time than we spend as an adult. Toddlers normally sleep between 11 and 14 hours per day on sleep, including one nap. Also, this is when they stop having bodily movements during REM.

Preschool (3 - 5 years):

preschoolPreschool children need slightly less sleep than toddlers, and as such their naps subsides around the ages of 3 and 4. They continue to have deep sleep for a higher portion of time, but their sleep patterns become closer to that of an adult. They sleep at least 10 to 13 hours per day.

School-age (6 years - 13 years):

School-age children sleep anywhere from 9 to 11 hours per day. Their deep sleep remains high, at around 20 to 25% of their daily sleep. This type of sleep is important for growth and development. 

It can be hard to tell whether your school-age child is getting enough sleep. Tired children tend not to slow down, and they become more active. This is why a child might refuse to go to sleep at night. Some reasons why your child may be having trouble sleeping are sleep apnea and ADHD. These two conditions tend to correlate because they both occur in the same part of the brain.

Adolescent (14 - 17 years):

When a child enters adolescents, their circadian rhythm changes. They go to bed later, and sleep in later. A teen should be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, but due to early school times, this rarely happens. Reports of a teen’s sleeping pattern shows that only 15% of kids get at least 8.5 hours of sleep.

Young Adult (18 - 25 years):

As kids begin entering young adulthood, their circadian rhythm begins adjusting back to normal. Going to bed earlier becomes more natural, making early start times much easier. People of these ages generally need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

Adults (26 - 64 years):

The circadian rhythm continues drifting back to an earlier bedtime. The need for sleep remains between 7 and 9 hours. As you age, less sleep is necessary to feel well-rested.

Adults (26 - 64 years):

In an ideal world, the elderly would get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, but this is not the case for many. Due to a syndrome called Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), many have trouble sleeping. This affects 13% of men, and 35% of women. In addition to this, it can be difficult for the elderly to get sleep due to illness or medication. Both of which make stable sleep difficult.

Tips for Getting a Better Night’s Sleep:

Making sleep a priority will change your life for the better. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, here are some simple tips to make your night better. Try these steps below. However, if this continues to fail, consider seeing a sleep doctor.

  1. Create a Schedule – Many people consistently wake up at the same time, but they aren’t consistent when they fall asleep. Pick a time to fall asleep, and do this every day. Falling asleep and waking up at the same time will be good for your circadian rhythm, making sleep easier.
  2. Exercise – Try to exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes each day. Physical exercise is proven to increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep, and to increase sleep in general. However, try not to do this right before bed, or it may keep you up.
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine – Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, and they are likely to keep you awake at night. Research has shown that smokers get less sleep at night, and are more likely to be awoken due to withdrawal symptoms.
  4. Avoid Alcohol – One of the symptoms of drinking is drowsiness, so it may come as a surprise that it can decrease your quality of sleep. A reason for this is that it blocks some of your REM sleep, making your sleep less fulfilling than before.
  5. Relax – Find a way to relax your muscles before bed. Such activities as taking a bath, drinking tea, and listening to calming music can make a big difference. Find something that makes you feel good, and apply this to your bedtime routine.
  6. No Electronics – The light from electronics delays your body’s circadian rhythm. It makes your body think that it is still day time, and that you are not ready to go to sleep.
  7. Don’t lie in bed awake – If you can’t sleep, don’t wait for it to happen. Get up and do something, and come back to it in a little bit.
  8. See a Doctor – If none of this is working, consider seeing a doctor. This is not a problem that you need to live with, and a doctor can help you have better sleep.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock

sleep clock

If you are trying to set up a sleep schedule, consider downloading a sleep cycle alarm clock on your phone. It uses the sounds of your breathing in addition to your movements, to track what stage of sleep you are at. The best part is that the alarm wakes you up at the perfect time in your sleep cycle. Never worry about waking up groggy again!

This alarm clock has many unique features. Including recording your snores, which allows you to finally hear what they sound like. Additionally, it tracks the flow of your sleep throughout the night. This lets you know when you are at your deepest sleep.

Setting Up:

  1. Download the App – There are several different apps available, and they include a 7-day free trial. Discover a new morning ease by downloading the app.
  2. Placement – The location of your phone should be close to your bed, but not under a pillow or mattress. When your phone is smothered under a pillow or mattress, the phone becomes too hot to work. Lay it on the nightstand or the corner of the bed.
  3. Start – Have the app start tracking your sleep once you enter your bed. It will calculate how long it takes you to fall asleep, and note when you first fall asleep.
  4. Morning – When you wake up in the morning, turn off the alarm. Review your sleep for the night and find out how many interruptions you had. It will note the number of hours spent in bed and the amount spent asleep.
  5. Snooze – There are two options. There is the smart snooze, where the phone continues to wake you up at the lightest state of sleep. Also, there is a general timed alarm. However, this alarm can make it harder to get up in the morning.

Setting up this type of system can make a huge difference in your sleep. Less of it will be needed over time, and it will play a role in making your mornings easier. The less groggy you can feel in the morning, the better it is. That is what a sleep cycle alarm clock can do for you.

Good Sleep is Possible

A great night’s sleep doesn’t have to be a puzzle. It can be as simple as taking the time to prioritize it. Make a schedule, take time to relax, and exercise throughout the day. There is an abundant amount of solutions for insomnia, and it begins with right now. Choose to make this change because you deserve it.

Make some tea before bed. Refrain from alcohol and stimulants, and find the will to make sleep valuable. If multiple attempts do not work, consider reaching out to a doctor. Your body and mind both deserve good sleep, and a doctor could help you. So have a good night sleeping!

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