Understanding your sleep
The one single thing we do, as humans, more than anything else is sleep. Whether you’re getting a regular 8 hours or struggling to string 5 hours together – it’s important that you understand your sleep and what type of sleep you’re getting. If you suffer from poor sleep, regular waking and / or snoring it can have a direct impact on your well-being and long term health.
Sleep can feel like a mostly blank canvas compared to your waking life. You may even have thought of sleep as lost time. The truth is quite the opposite. Sleep is an active, purposeful time for both your mind and body, essential to your health and survival, as well as to the quality of your waking life. Sleep has structure, and the stages of sleep serve specific and important purpose.
Two types of sleep
Sleep is divided broadly into two categories: REM sleep and non-REM sleep, sometimes referred to as NREM. You spend most of your night’s sleep, about 75 percent of your total sleep time, in NREM sleep. The remaining 25 percent of sleep time is spent in REM sleep. NREM sleep is further divided into three phases. Together with REM sleep, these three sleep phases comprise the four stages of sleep. Throughout the night, you move repeatedly among these four sleep stages, in patterns that create distinct sleep cycles. A full sleep cycle typically lasts between 90-100 minutes. Over the course of a full night’s sleep, you will generally complete 4-5 sleep cycles.
Every stage has a purpose
At each stage of sleep, the body is engaged in processes geared toward its own repair and rejuvenation, restoring stamina, strength and function to prepare for the day ahead. The restorative processes of sleep are physical, including cell repair, hormone regulation, and protecting a healthy immune system function. Sleep not only restores us physically, but also mentally, aiding in the processing of memory, emotion, and learning. All stages of sleep are important. It is the balance of time spent in each sleep stage that is critical to feeling fully rested and refreshed, and to having the mental and physical energy to meet the requirements of the waking day.
Changes to sleep cycles
The distribution of sleep across stages changes over the course of a lifetime, from childhood through old age. A wide range of environmental and lifestyle factors – from light and noise to exercise, stress, and diet—can influence your nightly sleep architecture. Even your sleep routine itself affects how sleep cycles unfold: getting too little or too much sleep, as well as the quality of your sleep, can alter sleep cycles. By creating habits and routines that promote healthy sleep, you help your body maintain the integrity of your own individual sleep architecture, to the benefit of your long-term health.
See also our article: The Stages of sleep