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The stages of sleep

December 03, 2021 - By Lucy Johnston

We all know how important sleep is to our physical and mental wellbeing. But did you know there’s a lot going on behind the scenes throughout that period of rest?

In fact, researchers have determined there are four definite stages of sleep that we cycle through, with each acting to restore and rejuvenate the body.

So, let’s take a quick tour of the different stages of sleep.

Stage One – Nodding off

The first stage of sleep is generally pretty brief, taking just a few minutes on average. This is where your body readies itself for rest, your heartbeat slows, your muscles relax, and you feel yourself nodding off.

Stage Two – Light sleep

During the second stage of sleep your body relaxes further, but still hasn’t attained that deep rest required for cell rejuvenation and repair.

Instead, your heart rate and breathing continue to slow and your body’s temperature drops, but you might find you are more easily awakened to things going on around you.

Experts estimate this sleep stage lasts about 25 minutes.

Stage Three – Deep sleep

Stage three involves the deepest sleep state, when you are likely to be hard to rouse. At this point your body is fully relaxed, and your heart rate and beathing are at their slowest.

This is the point of sleep when your body is undertaking major repairs, cells are regenerating, tissues are repairing and growing, and the immune system is strengthening.

Stage Four – REM sleep

REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, is pretty well-documented, but as a recap, this is the primary dreaming phase of sleep where brain activity markedly increases.

At this point, your heart rate and breathing also accelerate, eye movements become rapid, and some muscles might even be temporarily paralysed.

Four stages, multiple cycles

While sleep is divided into four stages, each night you cycle through each stage about every 90 to 120 minutes, with an average night’s sleep involving four to five cycles.

Meanwhile, the percentage of non-REM sleep is greater in the first half of the night and you tend to have more REM sleep in the second half.

Each of these stages helps serve an important purpose, allowing your body to rejuvenate and relax, manage hormones and sort memories, which makes getting enough sleep critical.

Your sleep environment

Your sleep environment plays an important role in ensuring you enjoy a restful and relaxing sleep which incorporates all the sleep cycles.

That means you should set up your bedroom as a haven for relaxation, starting with a good mattress, quality bedding and the right pillow.

You also need to ensure the temperature of this room accommodates a good night’s rest while limiting pre-sleep stimulants including alcohol, caffeine, and blue light devices.

It also pays to engage in a pre-sleep routine, which involves winding down for the evening and readying your body for rest – whether that involves a warm bath, meditation or aromatherapy.

You can read more about the importance of a good night’s sleep here, along with our top tips to help you get the rest you need.