People don’t simply fall asleep and wake up. In fact, there’s 5 sleep stages we pass through (or should be passing through) as we slumber. It’s important to understand what each of these stages are so we can ensure we’re getting into a deep enough sleep. Failure to hit certain stages of sleep means bodily functions that correspond to that stage aren’t happening.
Sleep Stage 1
What it feels like: This stage is easy to feel because it’s the stage we enter in and out of as fall into sleep. In this stage, a person is easily awoken by the feeling of their muscles suddenly contracting or experiences the sensation of falling. If someone or yourself wakes you from this stage, it may feel like you didn’t sleep at all.
What happens to the body: Blood pressure decreases, breathing slows down, heart-rate remains steady, and your brain’s temperature decreases.
Duration: Stage 1 can last from 1-10 minutes.
Sleep Stage 2
What it feels like: In stage 2 it is harder to wake someone up as the body prepares to shift towards deep sleep.
What happens to the body: Brain waves become slower with irregular and few bursts of rapid waves. Body temperature starts to descend along with heart rate.
Duration: Sleep Stage 2 takes about 20 minutes to complete, but we revisit this stage most often as it accounts for about 45% of total sleep time.
Sleep Stage 3 & 4
What it feels like: Sleep stages 3 and 4 have been combined and are now referred to as the “NREM Stage 3”, “slow-wave sleep” or “Delta sleep.” In this stage, deep sleep begins. Parasomnias can take place, which include occurrences such as talking in their sleep, sleep walking, or night terrors. You will feel nothing in this stage because you will be initializing deep sleep. If you are forced awake you will feel disoriented.
What happens to the body: There are 2 brain waves in this stage of sleep: 1. large but slow waves referred to as Delta waves and 2. fast but smalls waves. The body is immobile, with no eye movement or muscle activity, slowed breathing, and even lower body temperature and blood pressure.
Duration: Between 5-15 minutes.
What it feels like: Most of your dreams occur during REM. Researchers theorize that dreams are how the brain processes memories, stress and emotion.
What happens to the body: Deep sleep is the most restorative sleep level. REM sleep is also known as “paradoxical sleep” because brain waves have similar patterns to a person who is awake.
Duration: REM sleep accounts for about 20% of your total sleep, but if your cycle is disrupted, the body will demand extended periods of REM sleep until you’re caught up.
How to Ensure You Achieve All Stages of Sleep
Practicing good sleep hygiene will increase your chances of a good night's sleep. You must adequately prepare the body and mind for sleep like you would for the gym or to cook a meal- the more attention you give it the better the results.
Sleeping on an air mattress that’s good for your body and prevents disruption from your partner is the final piece to make your sleep preparation worthwhile and keep you sleeping.