Understanding your sleep cycle
Understanding your sleep cycle

Sleep is important because it lets your body rest and restores energy levels. It affects your mental and physical well being and can help you cope with stress or illness

Sleep is neither passive nor dormant. During sleep, your brain remains active and will have a direct bearing on how your body functions when you are awake. The neurotransmitter chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin help in maintaining brain activity when we are asleep and switch off signals to the body when we are awake.

Sleep specialists posit that there are 5 stages of sleep that occur in a continuous cycle during the sleep phase. For someone to get the full benefits of sleep, it is important that they go through the full cycle otherwise they will not feel refreshed when they wake up. Infants have a slightly different pattern from adults.

Having an understanding of natural occurrences like summer solstice facts and different seasons and how they can impact on sleep patterns will help you sleep better waking up refreshed and revitalized.

We will walk through the sleep phases in the article below.

  1. Sleep introduction.

In the sleep introduction phase, you will find yourself drifting in an out of sleep. Generally still alert, the slightest noise will wake you up. The eyes continue to move slowly and you are able to recall some visual images. You may also feel like you are about to fall because of sudden muscle contractions.

  1. The sleep begins

In this stage, the eye and brain movements slow down start to slow down.

  1. Slow wave sleep

At this stage, the brain or delta waves are much slower. Slow wave sleep is greatest in young children but tends to decrease the older they get.

  1. Stage of deep sleep.

This is the stage where you are fully asleep. Try waking up someone in this stage of sleep and you will realize that they are hard to wake up, if they do wake up they will require a few minutes to adjust because of the disorientation experienced. There is no muscle or eye activity. This is the stage where people sleepwalk or talk.

  1. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage

The eye activity in this stage is very fast and breathing becomes irregular. Sleep experts believe the eye movements signify that the individual is dreaming but there is no actual proof to substantiate the claim. Blood pressure and heart rate also go up. REM increases while deep sleep becomes shorter as the night progresses. Some people are unable to sleep because of a number of factors including medications like antidepressants and cigarette use. When you take alcohol, you will go into a deep sleep but once the alcohol starts leaving your system you will wake up. The waking up tends to occur in the REM stage.

REM is the stage where dreaming occurs, your body goes into a state of paralysis which prevents us from acting out our dreams. However, there are some people who do things while asleep like walking, eating or even having sex, they almost always never remember doing the activities.

Some people will wake up during REM and experience the terrifying Sleep paralysis, where they are aware of what is happening around them but cannot move. Some people say they feel like there is a presence in the room while others feel like there is someone sitting on their chest, crushing out the air from lungs leading to breathing difficulties. Once the paralysis  breaks, individuals experience anxiety and terror but this dissipates after some time

Sleep cycle

A typical sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long. In the initial cycles, you will spend a lot of time in stages 1 to 4 typically referred to as Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage. Towards the end of sleep, you will spend more time in REM.

The cycle highlighted above is the ideal, there are however many factors that can interfere with it leading to sleep problems for some individuals. Such factors include age, illness, stress, exercise, and medication among others. The individuals sleep history is also important, irregular sleep can throw the internal clock off leading to a redistribution of the sleep phases.

Napping is a good way of catching up with lost sleep unless it interferes with night sleeping.

So what are the benefits of napping?

Extra sleep is good for rejuvenating the body especially if you did not get a good night’s sleep. Adults need an average of 8-9 hours per day but the daily demands of life whether family, work or social life does not always allow it to happen. If you find that you are not getting the required hours of sleep then consider napping during the day to help you rejuvenate.

Sleep specialists recommend a nap time of 20-30 minutes. This means that during your lunch break you can look for a quiet place and take a nap. You will wake up feeling refreshed and alert. Longer nap times can result in grogginess and disrupted night sleep.  Specialists found that the alertness from naps was as good as taking a strong cup of coffee. Combine the two and you will be good to go.

However, with the good comes some bad. Other than grogginess and disrupted sleep, napping can increase the likelihood of heart failure for people who were already at risk.

Society may also frown upon people who take frequent naps as lazy or lacking in ambition. These thoughts come from people who may not understand the benefits of napping. Long distance drivers and those who suffer from conditions like Narcolepsy, a sleep condition characterized by extreme sleepiness especially during the day, would highly benefit from scheduled naps so as to stay alert.

Final thoughts.

A good night’s sleep is very important. When it is not possible to sleep well at night, consider catching a quick nap to reduce the sleepiness and fatigue. Make sure that the environment you are sleeping in is conducive to sleep so that you can enjoy some well-deserved rest.


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