Understanding Your Sleep Cycle

Understanding Your Sleep Cycle 2

Are you having a good nights’ sleep? People tend to sleep around one-third of their time. Getting quality sleep is very important other than food and water. Without good sleep, your brain won’t create or learn new things.

It will be harder to respond and concentrate quickly.

While you are sleeping, the body and brain remain active. Recent studies have shown that sleep helps your body to remove toxins from your brain that forms while you are conscious.

It impacts every tissue and organ in your body. Lack of good quality sleep increases the risk of several disorders in your body.

Experts recommend that people need to have about 8 to 9 hours of sleep at night.

The latest research puts emphasis on the different stages of sleep, besides limited to how much you sleep. In this article, you get an insight into the sleep cycle and everything that relates to it.

Understanding Your Sleep Cycle

Understanding Your Sleep Cycle 3
Attractive blonde woman peacefully sleeping. Side view. Horizontal.

Different Stages of Sleep

There are 4 stages of sleep. Non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that consists of three different stages, and REM sleep. Each of these stages is connected to specific neuronal activity and brain waves.

Your body tends to cycle through all the stages of both REM and non-REM sleep throughout the night. Deeper periods of REM occur in the early morning.

Stage 1 – During this stage, you shift from awake to sleep. It is a light non-REM sleep that lasts for a few minutes. . Within this period, you will experience your breathing, heartbeat, and eye movements will slow down. The muscle will relax with twitches. The brain waves start to slow from the patterns of wakefulness.

Stage 2 – During this stage, the sleep cycle continues to remain light. But you begin to enter into a deeper sleep. The breathing and heartbeat are even slower now, and muscles further relax. Your eye movements and body temperature drops. Activity in brain waves slows and marked by a blowout of electrical activity. This stage is where you spend most of the repeated sleep cycles.

Stage 3 – This is the stage where you enter into a deep sleep. It is an important stage that makes you feel refreshed the following morning. This stage stays for longer periods during the night. Breathing along with heartbeat reaches the lowest level. Your muscles are in total relax mode, and you can’t rouse with ease. Brain waves are even slower. 

REM sleep – This stage first occurs around 90 minutes of falling asleep. It reoccurs after every 90 minutes. Both the eye moves fast behind the eyelids. Your brain waves appear similar to an awakened person. Your heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure almost reaches to waking levels. This is where most people dream. The muscles of your leg and arm paralyze for a short time and prevent you from reacting. 

What is REM?

REM sleep (or, rapid eye movement) is the stage where people tend to have dreams. The eye movements are quick and move from side to side. The brain waves become more active as compared to stages 2 and 3 of the sleep cycle.

Arousals and awakenings are easier and more frequent in REM. When you wake during a REM, you feel over-sleepy or groggy.

You enter REM sleep within 90 minutes from your initial falling asleep time. Each stage of REM sleep can last for an hour. There are about 5 to 6 REM cycles for an average adult each night. Your blood pressure and heart rate become shallow and irregular.

REM sleep has an important role to play when it comes to memory and learning function. 

This is the time when your brain combines and processes the information from the previous day. This information is stored as long-term memories. As the REM sleep stage tends to stretch long, the whole sleep cycle gets expanded.

As the night ends, your deep sleep stages become non-existent. 

It is worthy to note that the REM sleep cycle is different at different ages. An infant’s REM cycle will not be the same as an average adult or an elderly person.

Every night, the non-REM sleep stages happen in the early night and REM periods extend as the night advances. There is a good chance that you will wake up from a dream early in the morning.

How long is a full sleep cycle?

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You need a full sleep to maintain a healthy body. Your sleep patterns tend to change when you grow old. But it can vary from person to person having the same age.

Hence, there is no magical number when it comes to a full sleep cycle that works for every one of similar ages. Babies sleep for around 16 – 18 hours each day. It is important for their growth and development of the brain.

Teens and school-age children in general need about 9 hours of sleep at night. Most adults will need to sleep for 7 to 9 hours per night. However, after attaining 60 years of age, there is a fall in the hours of sleep.

Nighttime sleep will be lighter, shorter, and breaks-off multiple times. It is more likely that elderly people will need medications that help in sound sleep.

These days, people are having less sleep than they need because of long working hours. Another reason for getting less sleep is the availability of all-time entertainment and other lively activities.

There are many people who believe that they will adjust their missed sleep during the weekdays and compensate for it on the weekends. 

But that doesn’t turn out fruitful because it will depend on how long they are deprived of sleep. Hence, sleeping longer during the weekends won’t work wonders. When you sleep, several functions take place in your body and mind.

They include physical recovery, learning process, balancing out metabolism, and so on. Without a sleep cycle, these functions won’t take place. 

What is a good sleep cycle?

A good sleep cycle is nothing but the continuation of the various stages from non-REM to REM sleep and again starting the progress with non-REM sleep. In general, a person begins a sleep cycle every 90 to 120 minutes. This results in 4 to 5 cycles in sleep time or total hours spent asleep. 

You can’t go straight to a REM sleep from stage 3 non-REM sleep. Rather, a good sleep cycle continues through all the stages of NREM (or non-REM) sleep from the soft to deep sleep.

They tend to reverse back to light sleep from the deep sleep and ends with the period in REM sleep before beginning with the light sleep once again.

For most people, a good sleep cycle starts with a very brief period called stage 1 sleep. During this stage, the body starts to relax and enters into a drowsy state with slow eye movements. However, awakenings and arousals are quite natural. 

Understanding Your Sleep Cycle 5
Top View of Beautiful Young Woman Sleeping Cozily on a Bed in His Bedroom at Night. Blue Nightly Colors with Cold Weak Lamppost Light Shining Through the Window.

Stage 1 is very important because it allows the body to transfer to stage 2, which is the first significant stage of non-REM sleep. Stage 2 remains for longer durations than stage 1. For a wide majority of people, stage 2 sleep consists of around 40 to 60% of the entire sleep cycle. 

Moving further through these sleep cycles, stage 3 can be found in the next progression. This stage doesn’t last for longer durations as compared to stage 2. In adults, they last from 10 to 15% of the whole sleep cycle.

Stage 3 remains for longer hours in adolescents and children. 

REM can happen at any time during the whole sleep cycle. But, in most cases, it starts within 90 minutes of the sleep cycle. It remains short in duration because it is the first REM of the night.

After this, the process once again resumes and begins with durations of stages 1, 2 and 3 mixed together. 

Then it shifts to REM again for long durations as the sleep time continues. The first good sleep cycle takes around 90 minutes. Consequently, they range between 100 and 120 minutes.

It is seen that an individual goes through 4 to 5 good sleep cycles per night.

Does the sleep cycle work if you share a bed?

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Attractive Brunette Cozily Sleeps in Her Bed while Early Morning Sunrays Illuminate Her. Warm, Cozy and Sweet Picture of Beauty Sleeping

It can be concluded that mental well-being and physical health starts with sleep and ends with it as well. You know the harmful side effects of not having a good sleep.

Sleep deprivation leads to several health complications such as anxiety, depression, and so on. Sleep deprivation not only hampers an individual, but it affects their loved ones too.

Remember that when you aren’t getting good sleep, your healthy relationship tends to suffer. That’s because the quality and quantity of sleep both the partners enjoy in a romantic relationship has a deep impact on sexual life.

When you are deprived of sleep, it may hamper your sexual relationship. Sex hormones will drop significantly, and stress hormones will begin to rise.

One of the primary causes of friction when it comes to relationships arises from having to compromise or merge sleeping habits with their partner. Sometimes matter may get so bad that it becomes evitable for both of them to sleep on separate beds.

This way, they can have a good sleep and able to maintain a healthy relationship. 

There may be some disturbances in the sleep cycle while sharing a bed. But, sleeping together marks the sign of a healthy relationship. Many people believe that sleeping apart on twin mattresses weakens the profoundness between them.

After some time, sleeping habits may not cause problems between them. They will be able to have a good sleep cycle. 

What causes lack of deep sleep?

Anyone could benefit from having a good sleep. When it is about deep sleep, it seems more desirable. However, falling short of deep sleep can cast serious health consequences. Slow-wave sleep is the deepest stage of sleep.

It becomes difficult to awaken a person from a deep sleep. It occurs during the first third of each night. Deep sleep is commonly referred to as stage 3 sleep.

However, there are some factors that contribute to the lack of deep sleep. One of the reasons is the weakened sleep drive. It can be weakened and hence a proportion of your deep sleep gets reduced.

It can also be weakened by taking frequent naps. A prolonged time in bed when it becomes almost impossible to have sleep is another reason.

Sleep disorders are another reason that causes a shortage of deep sleep. Certain sleeping disorders may disturb your deep sleep. Periodic limb movements and sleep apnea can cause repetitive awakening.

These disruptions can result in a reduced deep sleep. Effective treatment can solve the matter of deep sleep. It can further normalize the balance of different stages of the sleep cycle over time.

Sometimes using a particular substance can cause a lack in deep sleep. And, therefore it should be withdrawn. For instance, caffeine is such a stimulant that lowers deep sleep. Even after its consumption, the effects remain for several hours.

Similarly, when you use opioid medications and benzodiazepine, it reduces deep sleep. Withdrawal from these will result in an increase in a deep sleep.

Trazodone, an antidepressant used in sleeping aid, increase deep sleep. Both lithium and marijuana, which are used to treat bipolar disorder, may improve slow-wave sleep.

However, non-benzodiazepine sleeping aids like zaleplon casts no impact on deep sleep.

Why am I not getting enough deep sleep?

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Tired woman sleeping on the table in the kitchen at breakfast. Trying to drink morning coffee

The intensity of sleep corresponds to its perceived quality. Hence, you can tell when you aren’t having enough deep sleep. Light sleep, on the other hand, are fragmented and accompanied by frequent awakenings or arousals.

You may experience sleepiness, unrest, and fatigue throughout the entire day after waking the following morning.

As of now, there is no easy and accurate way to detect your sleep stages. As such, there is no way to determine whether you are having enough deep sleep or not on a nightly basis.

The standard test for diagnosing sleep is the polysomnogram, which is a formal study conducted at sleep centers. This testing has certain limitations, quite expensive, and inaccessible. 

Wearable technology that includes numerous associated devices and fitness trackers seems to provide the assessment. They depend on the detection of certain movements like heart rate along with variables such as EEG or oxygen levels.

However, they are imperfect and doesn’t reflect the real deep sleep patterns. It is hoped that someday the health technology may bring accuracy in the measurements.

Until then, you have to rely on some important aspects that can affect your deep sleep cycle. However, as you get old, you will have a less deep sleep. There is nothing you can do about it. But there are other things you can control that impacts your sleep quality.

They include stress levels, exercise, alcohol intake, light, noise, and room temperature. A power nap of about 20 minutes in the afternoon gives you lots of energy.

Is deep sleep good?

Deep sleep happens in stage 3 of non-REM sleep. During this stage, the brain waves are called delta waves. That’s because of their large amplitude and slow speed.

Of all the other sleep stages, deep sleep is restorative in nature and likely to be affected by outside stimuli. Deep sleep lowers your sleep drive. After sleep deprivation, you can experience an extensive time in a deep sleep.

When your body goes to stage 3 sleep, it releases growth hormones. These hormones are important for the repair and development of tissues. It is very important to have this normal growth in children.

As an adult, this hormone builds up muscle mass along with exercise. It also alleviates the impact of wear and tears on your body. 

During deep sleep, the increased flow of blood to the muscles helps in this process. Stage 3 sleep plays an important role in clearing metabolic waste from your brain via the glymphatic system.

As a result, it improves your memory processing, optimizes the different functions in your immune system, and restores energy cells. 

Glucose metabolism in your brain cells increases during stage 3 sleep, it supports both long and short-term memory and impacts the overall learning. The pituitary gland secretes certain hormones during deep sleep.

Some other benefits of good deep sleep include cell regeneration, energy restoration, increasing blood flow to muscles, promotes repair of bones and tissues, and empowering the immune system.

How can I increase my deep sleep time?

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Tired single woman resting on the bed of an hotel room or home

It is understandable that deep sleep has significant impacts on the health and quality of your life. But it is surprising that there is very limited information on how to increase the amount of stage 3 or deep sleep.

However, there are some possible solutions. Let’s begin with improving the sleep drive. Extended periods of wakefulness can lead to an increase in a deep sleep. 

That means you need to shrink the various opportunities of getting sleep. As such, when you go to bed, you achieve a good deep sleep. Sleep restriction or sleep consolidation is effective in treating insomnia.

This technique has been integrated into to cognitive-behavioral program for insomnia. Sleep deprivation may promote sleep depth where sufficient sleep occurs.

Another way of increasing deep sleep is by following a circadian rhythm. Sleep depth leads to a circadian pattern of greater amounts during the first part of the night.

You can enhance it by having a sleep-wake schedule on weekends and using the morning sun rays as a signal to the circadian system soon after awakening. 

Further research has to be done to find out the effects of the environment and behaviors on deep sleeping. Physical activity may help, but the timings are unknown. Taking a shower or warm bath about 90 minutes earlier before bedtime can be helpful.

Cool bedroom may enhance depth in sleep. Avoid environment light, temperature, or noise. It may be possible that devices that emit electrical patterns, sound, lights, or vibrations may enhance your deep sleep.

How many minutes of REM sleep is normal?

There is no official information as to how much REM sleep is normal for you to take. However, dreaming is most common in this stage. Many experts believe that dreaming helps you to process emotions and strengthens certain memories.

For most adults, REM takes about 25% of the entire sleep, it is considered healthy during sleep cycles.

The sleeping time of an average person is approximately 6 to 8 hours. Consider it as two halves. For the majority of people, the first half consists of stages 2 and 3 with irregular periods of stage 1 and a reduced REM stage.

As the night continues, stage 3 starts to decrease while stage 1 & 2 stays with long periods of REM. An average person experiences 3 to 5 REM periods throughout the whole sleep time.

The longest REM period happens right before the beginning of the day. If someone awakes before completing a REM period, the person may experience sleep inertia.

There will be a heightened sensation of sleep deprivation that can spread from several minutes to several hours. 

In this period, your breathing tends to become rapid, shallow and irregular, the limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed, and eyes jerk fast. During this stage, the brain waves increase and become the same as that of a person who is awake.

The blood pressure rises, the heartbeat increases, the body loses its ability to maintain the temperature, and males develop erections. 

On the flip side, some sleep researchers are raising certain interesting questions. One study reflects that high amounts of REM sleep can be linked with depression. However, there are paths to conquer for establishing this theory.

Hence, don’t make sudden implementations in your sleeping habits. It is still unclear which is the cause and effect.

Does melatonin increase deep sleep?

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Mature adult holding a small white pill in his hand

Melatonin is a hormone produced by your body naturally. The pineal gland in your body is the primary producer of melatonin. It consists of a daily biorhythm. The levels rise and fall throughout the whole day and night.

They reach the lowest levels in the early morning and highest levels during the evenings. The biorhythm is linked to the 24-hour cycle.

Keep in mind that melatonin is not a sedative. It works to improve sleep by regulating the biorhythm of your body and maintaining the sleep-wake cycles.

There is enough scientific evidence that shows melatonin can help to strengthen and enhance the sleep-wake cycles. It makes possible to adopt more healthy sleep patterns. It makes easier for you to sleep on a stipulated schedule. 

Some research shows that melatonin shortens the time it needs to fall fast asleep. There will be an increase in overall sleeping amounts. Melatonin helps in improving the quality of sleep. It reduces fatigue and daytime sleepiness.

There is evidence to back the theory that melatonin can increase deep sleep. You will have better sleep and your bio-clock will run in sync.

As such, it helps in improving your mood, raises your energy levels, and increases daytime performance. It improves your overall health by improving your immune system, digestion, appetite, and metabolism.

Melatonin strengthens your body’s bio clock and improves sleep-wake cycles. 

Apart from this, melatonin supplements help in treating insomnia, sleep issues connected with work shifts, sleep problems connected with medical conditions such as ADHD and high blood pressure, sleep problems during menopause, and so on.

Does alcohol affect deep sleep?

Recent studies show that alcohol doesn’t improve overall sleep quality. It has a negative impact on deep sleep. According to the researchers, alcohol allows healthy persons to fall fast asleep. But it reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

The more you drink before bedtime; the more will be the side effects. Disturbances in REM sleep may cause you poor concentration, and daytime drowsiness.

The delta activity during deep sleep allows the brain to learn new things and form memory. During that time, the alpha activity gets turned on as well. Alpha activity happens when you are resting in a quiet environment other than sleeping.

Together, both these activities in your brain hamper your restorative sleep after drinking. 

Alcohol interrupts the circadian rhythm. You tend to fall fast asleep soon after drinking. But it is also common to wake up during the middle of the night. The sleep-inducing chemical in your brain, adenosine increases after drinking.

It comes quickly and leaves quickly. As a result, your body wakes up before you are actually have rested. 

Alcohol reduces the restorative quality of your sleep. Even a low intake of alcohol decreases the recovery by 9.3% than sleep normally provides. As little as a single drink can interrupt deep sleep. Alcohol can block REM sleep.

As such, you won’t have quality sleep. Less REM will make you feel unfocused and groggy the following day. 

What affects REM sleep?

The factors that affect REM is still unknown. REM sleep disorder may happen in connection with several degenerative neurological conditions like multisystem atrophy, Parkinson’s disease, and Lewly body dementia.

The studies show that in about 55% of cases, the cause is not known. In about 45%, it can be associated with alcohol consumption.

Other causes include the usage of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a tricyclic antidepressant, or other kinds of antidepressants. REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) precedes the development of these diseases by several years.

Another study shows that about 38% of people diagnosed with this disorder developed Parkinson’s disease within 13 years from the detection of RBD symptoms. 

What happens if you wake up in REM sleep?

Various researchers have found out that uninterrupted sleep triggers poor consequences to the cognitive functions as a result of four hours of sleep. Your brain reacts poorly to this idea of being left out blared.

The bad news is that many people use an alarm to wake them up. As such, they tend to interrupt the mid-sleep cycle.

If you wake up in the REM stage of sleep, it causes significant problems relating to mood. REM sleep is associated with dreaming and increased brain activity.

Some studies have shown that it casts a negative influence on both the genders when awakened suddenly from REM sleep. The reports indicate that women are the most affected by this sudden arousal. 

Both men and women considered themselves as terrible on different personality tests. They tend to remember traumatic and worse memories.

Researchers have pointed out that the REM stage of sleep is responsible for building new memories and regulate them. Therefore, waking during that period may interfere with some kind of emotional balance during sleep. 

How can I improve my sleep?

Lifestyle choices and unhealthy daytime habits can leave you awake at night and deprive you of having a good sleep. It affects your mood, immune system, creativity, heart and brain health, weight and vitality.

But, when you follow some common tips, you can enjoy deep sleep, improve your health, and get along with an energized body the following day. 

Some theories show that heat may induce slow-wave sleep. For instance, take a hot bath or spend some time in a sauna before bedtime. It helps to improve the quality of deep sleep.

Eat a low carb diet or take an antidepressant to have a sound sleep. However, more researches have to be done in these areas. If you get enough sleep, it may increase the duration of deep sleep. Here are some tips:

  • Maintain a schedule at bedtime where you have to sleep and wake up at a specific time each day
  • Have lots of exercises. Around 30 minutes a day of exercise is a good start. Avoid workouts in the wee hours before bedtime
  • Choose to drink water and decaffeinated drinks before going to bed. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine makes it hard to get a good deep sleep
  • A bedtime routine is a great thing to unwind the day, like taking a shower or reading a book
  • Banish loud noises and bright lights from your sleeping area. Too much computer or TV makes it difficult to relax
  • Consider replacing your innerspring mattress or best pillow for neck pain if you tend to use them for over a year. Remember, a comfortable bed will get you a better sound sleep


Sleep is an integral part of your health. Stages 1, 2, 3, and REM sleep are all important. Deep sleep is the most crucial part of staying healthy and feeling rested. An average adult gets about two hours of good deep sleep per eight hours of total sleep.

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