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A Comprehensive Dive into Understanding the Sleep Cycle

07 Feb. 2023

When wondering about the frequency of your sleep cycle, it is also important to focus on the number of hours you get to sleep. Sure, the quality of your sleep does depend on how much you sleep, but there are a variety of other factors involved as well.

Moreover, the key determinant of the quality of sleep lies in the amount of restorative sleep you get. The quality of your sleep is critical to a healthy sleep cycle. But what is quality sleep? Well, rejuvenating or energizing sleep comprises successfully progressing to and completing the four vital phases of sleep.

Each phase in your sleep cycle plays an instrumental role in enabling your body and mind to get the energy and invigoration it needs to wake up completely fresh and recharged. In light of this, we're going to talk about the different stages of sleep and what you can do to enjoy a healthier sleep cycle.

A Glimpse at Understanding the Human Sleep Cycle

It's not accurate to say that sleep is consistent. Rather, throughout the night, your sleep consists of different stages that make up the complete sleep cycle. The sleep cycle, on the other hand, comprises four unique levels. It is common for people to experience four to six sleep cycles throughout the 7-8 hours of naptime they get. However, it is equally important to know that each sleep cycle differs from the next in terms of duration. But as per the average, a typical sleep cycle may last up to 90 minutes.

Is There Any Difference Between Each Sleep Cycle?

Not particularly. It is completely typical for your sleep cycles to fluctuate in length as you snooze through the night. However, the initial sleep cycles is usually short in length and may last anywhere from 60 to 100 minutes. But the other sleep cycles are typically longer, ranging anywhere from 90 minutes to over 100 minutes. Each individual has a different sleep cycle based on how much sleep they get and the quality of their sleep patterns.

Understanding the 4 Stages of Your Sleep Cycle

In total, four different levels make up a normal sleep cycle. Three of the levels are associated with NREM (non-REM) sleep, while the last one is for REM sleep (rapid eye movement). The dissection of an individual's sleep pattern is typically known as sleep architecture. Let's take a look at the sleep stages individually.

The 3 Stages of Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (NREM)

The NREM cycle comprises three individual levels. The higher each level is in NREM, the tougher it is to wake someone.

Level 1

Also referred to as N1, this stage occurs when you start to doze off. N1 can last anywhere from 60 seconds to 7 minutes. During this stage, you haven't yet drifted away in neverland on your adjustable bed. Rather, your brain and body start to gradually slow down operations after short bursts of movements.  

In the N1 stage, anybody is liable to wake up at the slightest of sounds. However, if you aren't disturbed, you will rapidly transition into the next stage in NREM sleep.

Level 2

During N2, you begin to drift into a deep slumber. Your overall temperature drops, your muscles are relaxed, and your breathing and heart rates slow down. While all of this is happening, the activity in your brain begins to slow down as well, but it doesn't completely slow down, there are still little spikes in activity. However, this neural activity is important because it helps you fall into a deep slumber, making it difficult for anyone to wake you up.  

The N2 stage completes its cycle after 10-20 minutes. However, what's interesting is that an individual will spend most of their time in this stage. And each N2 occurrence can vary in duration and frequency.

Level 3

N3 is the final NREM stage where you experience deep and relaxing sleep. This is the stage where your brain activity significantly slows down, your muscles completely relax, your heart rate decreases, and your rate of breathing decreases.

Medical professionals and scientists speculate that N3 is the most important phase of the sleep cycle. And it is here where much of your brain and body's restorative and rejuvenation process starts. The N3 stage helps your mind and body recover.

Level 4

The final stage is known as REM sleep. This is the phase where your brain starts to brim with activity comparable to when you're wide awake. However, the body goes through a process known as atonia, where your muscles temporarily get paralyzed. But there are two major exceptions to this. Your breathing doesn't stop, and your eyes don't stop moving. Even when your eyes are closed and you're asleep, they will continue to flutter or move rapidly, hence the name rapid eye movement.

How You Can Improve Your Sleep Cycle

While nobody has any power over the type of sleep they get, there are measures you can implement to gradually optimize the quality of sleep you get.

One of the most important things you can do to achieve a deep and restorative slumber is to ensure that you sleep in the right environment. For example, you need to make sure that you are exposed to a good amount of ambient light and refrain from drinking any alcohol 1-2 hours before sleeping.

There are a lot of other factors that can also increase your sleep quality, such as sleeping on an electric bed during winter to keep your body nice and warm. However, your pillows, bed sheets, and mattress also play an instrumental role in how well you sleep.

Bottom Line

So there you have it. A complete breakdown of what sleep actually is and why it is essential that you aim for quality sleep.

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