Sleep is an essential part of life for good health. Sleep deprivation leads to problems with both mental and physical health, such as lack of concentration, weight gain, and reduced immune function. Still, despite knowing the importance of sleep, many people are sleep deprived. Understanding the stages of sleep can help reinforce the importance of a long, deep sleep every night.
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Sleep is a very complex process that includes five different stages. Over the course of the night, the body will move through the stages of sleep approximately five times. Below is an in depth look at the stages of sleep to help you understand what goes on inside of your body each night.
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Stage 1: Transitional PhaseThe initial stage of sleep is the transitional phase, and is also referred to as the “introduction to sleep.” This designation is the perfect way to describe this phase. Stage 1 is the period when you are first falling asleep, and feel yourself drifting in and out of consciousness. When you see someone slowly nodding off at their desk at 3 PM, they are in the transitional phase.
Because you are just beginning to drift into sleep during stage 1, it is very easy to be woken up. The often experienced jumping or falling sensation that abruptly jolts you awake is common during stage 1.
If you toss and turn at night or find yourself struggling to move past stage 1, supplements could be a great tool to help you achieve a deeper sleep. One great option is 5-HTP, a tryptophan precursor, which then metabolizes into melatonin and serotonin. These two hormones are crucial for calming the mind down and helping guide you into deeper sleep, without any artificial chemicals.
Stage 2: Light Sleep
Once you move past the initial stage of sleep, you enter phase two. You spend almost 50% of the night in this stage. Despite the large amount of time everyone spends in phase two, it is still considered a light sleep.
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During stage 2, your muscle and brain activity slows down even more than it already was during stage 1. Although it is a light sleep that you could still be awoken from relatively easily, your heart rate slows down during this phase. Importantly, your body temperature also starts decreasing during stage 2 of sleep. Throughout the day and night, your body temperature rises and falls. It rises early in the morning right before you wake up, stimulating alertness. A temperature decrease is associated with rest, and your body temperature is at its lowest during deep sleep. The initial decrease in body temperature that begins during stage 2 is your body’s way of signaling that it is time to rest.
Sleep spindles also make their nightly debut during the second phase of sleep. Sleep spindles are brief bursts of brain activity that activate areas of the brain such as the thalamus and insular cortices. Though they are activating the brain, they do not promote wakefulness. Rather, research shows that the spindles serve to refresh one’s ability to learn. Thus, stage 2 of sleep is critical for one’s ability to learn, and lack of sleep could result in a decrease in this ability.
But, sleep spindles are not the only determining factor in your ability to learn. The food you consume can also have an impact on cognitive performance. For example, malic acid is a nootropic found in foods like broccoli, rhubarb, and watermelon. Malic acid is used for energy metabolism, but also plays a crucial role in synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity influences the brain’s ability to form new neural connections for thoughts, memories, and ideas. Eating a diet rich in foods containing malic acid, or taking a supplement with the compound, will help improve memory, and thus your ability to learn.
Stages 3 and 4: Slow Wave SleepThe next stages of sleep are grouped together because they share one main characteristic: slow brain waves. During these phases, brain waves slow down to the rate of delta waves, with only the occasional faster wave. Delta waves are a low frequency type of brain waves generated during deep sleep and deep meditation.
Delta waves stimulate regeneration in the body, one of the reasons why deep sleep is so important for overall health. In addition to regeneration, slow wave sleep produces hormones that helps the body with growth and appetite control. These hormones help heal the body of any stresses that were put on it the previous day, while the appetite suppressing hormones help balance out overall hunger, which is why you (usually) do not wake up ravenous, despite fasting overnight. The amount of delta waves increases, while the occurrence of faster brain waves decreases, even more as you transition from stage 3 to stage 4.
Slow wave sleep is one of the NREM (non rapid eye movement) stages of sleep, meaning it is dreamless. Still, it is very deep, and if you were to be awakened during this phase you would be groggy and disoriented (and, probably angry).
Blood pressure drops and muscle and brain activity slows even further than in the previous stages. The body should be immobile, including the eyes- there is no eye movement in stages 3 and 4. But, even though the muscles are not moving, they are still functional. Stages 3 and 4 is when sleep problems among children like bedwetting and sleepwalking occurs.
Stage 5: REM Sleep
Stage 5, the final stage of sleep, is when rapid eye movement (REM) occurs. It is also the only stage in which we dream. Unlike the other stages of sleep, during REM the brain is extremely active, thus allowing us to dream. During REM sleep, brain wave activity actually mimics being awake, explaining why dreams can feel so lifelike. Even though it can feel like your dreams last all night, most adults only spend about 20% of the night in REM sleep.
Nootropics can also help you achieve and stay in REM sleep for longer. Read more about Why Everyone Will Be Talking About Nootropics This Year.
During REM sleep, the eyes move around very quickly, while the rest of the body is temporarily paralyzed (other than the heart and lungs). Heart rate and blood pressure will begin to rise, and breathing becomes more shallow. People with sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing sufferers are at high risk during REM sleep due to the temporary muscle paralysis and irregular breathing patterns.
However, unless you have one of those conditions, there is nothing to be worried about during REM sleep- other than being woken up in the middle of a dream. At the end of stage 5 the body starts to wake up, body temperature rises once again, and the body and mind prepare for the coming day.
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Understanding what happens in your body as you sleep can help emphasize the importance of prioritizing sleep as part of your health and wellness routine. All of the stages of sleep have different benefits and are necessary to help you feel your best when you wake up each morning.
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The average person cycles through the stages of sleep four to five times over the course of the night. Interruption to any of these cycles can lead you to feel like you are not well-rested the next day. But, many people suffer from insomnia or restless sleep due to everyday problems like anxiety or stress that prevent them from getting the deep sleep they desperately need.
Relaxing supplements can be a great way to ensure that you feel calm at the end of the day so you can fall into a deep sleep and fully move through all of the sleep cycles. Phenibut is an anxiety reducing supplement that produces effects similar to benzodiazepines, without the negative side effects.
Momental MEND is a great way to reap the benefits of many of the compounds discussed in this article, along with other sleep-promoting ingredients like valerian root and pyridoxine B6. A non-drowsy anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), MEND puts you in a relaxed state of mind to help you get a deep sleep, moving through all of the stages of the sleep cycle, every night.
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