Understanding Your Sleep Cycles


Breaking down sleep cycles and understanding patterns is usually something that makes us nod off, as let’s face it, we’d much rather just conk out than try to understand what’s happening with our bodies. However, it’s important to comprehend the differing sleep cycles. While some of us have heard of REM sleep, not all of us really know what it is. Getting to know the natural cycles your body goes through, and identifying if you’re having trouble with them is a big step towards achieving a positive sleep pattern. Below is the basis of what you need to know when you’re catching some ZZZs.cute young woman sleeping on the bed

REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. This is because when you are in REM sleep, your eyes move around in quick motions. Your sleep cycle begins with the longer non-REM sleep, followed by the shorter REM cycle. REM is often where your dreams happen. When you wake up from a dream that feels like it was hours long but actually was only a few minutes – this is your REM sleep.

Before hitting REM sleep, you go through non-REM sleep, as mentioned. In non-REM sleep, there are three stages, each ranging from five to fifteen minutes long. The stages are as follows:

Stage 1: This is the stage between wakefulness and sleep, which can be referred to as a drowsy sleep. Your muscles are still active and eyes may flutter open and closed from time to time. In terms of brain waves, you are transitioning from the more awake beta and gamma waves, to slower alpha and theta waves. Your breathing will begin to become more regular and your heart rate will begin to slow. This sleep is easily disrupted and you may find yourself still able to listen to conversations around you, although with an unwillingness to participate. Sleep in this stage lasts about 10 minutes and is only 5% of the sleep cycle.

Stage 2: In this stage, your muscles relax, breathing slows even more, and consciousness to the outside world begins to completely fade. Brain waves have hit the theta level, and the most amount of time is spent in this stage, with it making up about 45-50% of total sleep time.

Stage 3: Moving still deeper, you are now in a delta, or slow-wave sleep. You are even less responsive to the outside environment than in Stage 2, with sounds and stimuli completely passing you over. This stage represents around 15-20% of your total sleep time. Brain temperature, heart rate and breathing rate are all at their lowest in this stage of sleep. Dreaming may occur at this stage as opposed to other stages, however it mostly occurs during the REM cycle. If you suffer from bedwetting, sleep-walking or night terrors, this is the stage where these conditions may occur. Waking someone during this cycle is the most difficult, and when awoken, they will feel groggy and will take some time to feel alert and stable.

old man sleepingAfter these three cycles, REM sleep occurs. REM sleep is about 90-120 minutes long and makes up 20-25% of a person’s total sleep time (this number differs for babies and young children). REM sleep occurs in the latter half of the sleep cycle and in the moments before waking. During REM sleep, the brain is more active, with waves occurring in theta and alpha levels, and sometimes even beta, hence why we have vivid dreams. Breathing rates are much higher, akin to when we are awake, as are heart rates and blood pressure.

Each sleep cycle is important in our health and ensuring that we wake feeling well-rested and energetic. If you’re experiencing disturbed REM sleep cycles, you could be compensating for it, and a symptom is dreaming in non-REM stages. Contact us for more information on sleep patterns, to book a consultation or appointment.






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