Just as you couldn’t live without food and water, sleep is vital to your survival. Without the correct amount of sleep, your brain is less able to learn and create new memories, and you may find it much more difficult to concentrate. For a lot of us, getting our eight hours a night can seem like an impossible task, but it’s really important trying to fit in those zzz’s to make sure that your body can properly recoup and regenerate, ready for a new day. But what actually happens when we drift off to the land of nod? We caught up with Lisa Borg, a sleep specialist at Pulse Light Clinic, to find out.
There are five stages of sleep that we cycle through multiple times on a nightly (or daily, depending on your schedule) basis, from light sleep, to deep sleep and the much talked about REM stage. Lisa goes into more detail about what each stage entails, as well as answering any sleep questions that you may be curious about.
STAGE ONE - DRIFTING OFF
Stage one is what we classically term as ‘drifting off’.
Lisa explains that “the first stage is a shallow sleep lasting approximately 7 minutes; it is an introductory phase where you are still somewhat alert. Eye movements slow down, and the body prepares for sleep by producing alpha and theta waves in the brain. You can be easily woken and if so you can consider you had a ‘catnap’.”
STAGE TWO - LIGHT SLEEP
This is the stage that bridges the gap between drifting off and entering a deep sleep.
“Stage two is also a light phase of sleep where you can be easily woken. Initially, brain waves increase to produce sleep spindles which help ‘turn off’ the response to external noise and motion. Brain waves then slow down. If woken at the end of this stage it could be called a ‘power nap’.”
STAGES THREE & FOUR - DEEP SLEEP
Next are the deepest, most restorative phases of sleep.
“Stage three and four are the beginning phases of deep sleep, where eye and muscle movements stop. It is most difficult to awaken from these two stages since they are deep, and lots of ‘maintenance’ activity is initiated, such as cell renewal, detoxification, hormonal balancing, growth and development, and immune function is boosted. The adrenal glands (stress response) repair and recover from the day’s stresses.”
STAGE FIVE - REM
Last up and perhaps the most talked about stage of the sleep cycle is REM. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and is characterised by, you guessed it, increased eye movement, as well as increased breathing and brain activity.
“REM generally occurs after an hour and a half of sleep. The heart rate, blood pressure and breathing increase, and the brain is much more active. It is during this phase we most often dream. It is thought that stage five has cognitive functions where we make sense of the day’s activities and store long term memories. The average adult has 5-6 REM cycles during one night of sleep.”
How can I switch off and get to sleep?
Lisa explains that over the past decades, our lifestyle factors have changed, which makes it much more difficult to get to sleep at night. Your endless Instagram scroll in bed won’t help things, just as increased stress levels and exposure to blue light from your TV, phone, or laptop won’t either.
Check out Lisa’s top tips to help you drift off to sleep:
– Avoid blue light for 1-2 hours before bed.
– Have a warm bath or shower before bed.
– Your bedroom environment needs to be right – make sure that it is cool and dark with no light at all.
– Get natural light exposure during the day.
– Avoid sugary food at least 3 hours before bed.
– No caffeine after 4pm.
– Stay in a routine and stick to it – this establishes your personal sleep cycle.
– Use natural sleep aids – we love the BeYou Pillow Spray.
– Try out some relaxation and breathing techniques.
How many hours of sleep should I be getting?
This varies depending on your age. Lisa clarifies that an average adult should be getting between 7 and 9 hours a night. For a teenager, it’s slightly more at 10 hours, possibly due to the hormone and body changes you experience during your teens.
Why is a good night’s sleep so important?
“A good night’s sleep is vital for health. Examples of the consequences of sleep deprivation are impaired memory, lower school grades, depression, slowed reaction time, decreased immune function, adrenal fatigue, impaired sexual function, and an increased risk of uncontrolled weight gain.”
Basically, there’s no two ways about it – make sure you are getting your sleep!
Why do I wake up still feeling tired after a good night’s sleep?
“If you wake up feeling really tired after a good night’s sleep, it suggests hormonal imbalances may be present. Follow a diet to balance blood glucose levels, make sure you exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, learn to let go of stress and pay attention to the points raised in this article. If all this fails, see your GP to have your hormones tested.”