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The stages of sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of our lives but an increasing number of adults in the UK are struggling to get a full night’s rest without any interruptions and are looking for sleep help. While we often focus on the hours of sleep a night we are getting, it’s also important to look at your sleep cycle, continuity and making sure you achieve that perfect night’s sleep.  

We all know that sleeping in stops and starts doesn’t feel as refreshing, and this can sometimes contribute to other issues such as daytime sleepiness, sleep deprivation, and trouble sleeping. Let’s look at potential sleep problems, how much sleep you really need and the different stages of sleep to help us understand our sleep cycle better.

Sleep problems

We all experience periods in our lives where we struggle to fall asleep or find ourselves waking up throughout the night. Sleep problems can come and go but longer stretches of bad sleep can start to affect our daily lives and can be linked to things like your environment, work life and even your diet. Extreme tiredness can make usually manageable tasks much harder. It’s thought that a third of adults in the UK will struggle with stress and sleep at some stage in their lives.

Stages of sleeping

The stages of sleep have been divided into four categories. During an ideal night’s sleep, your body has enough time to go through four to five 90-minute cycles that sample different phases of sleep as the night progresses. Sometimes, we can experience sound sleep which is when we have frequent and extended awakenings in the middle of the night, which can be disruptive. This can affect the total duration of your whole night’s sleep which is why each stage of sleep serves an important purpose in keeping your brain and body healthy.

1. Awake time

Awake time is spent in bed before you fall asleep and it’s important to make sure you feel settled and relaxed during this time so you can prepare for a good night’s sleep. Introducing natural sleep options such as the use of essential oils an hour or so before bedtime, can help you get to establish an ideal sleep environment helping you with your overall quality of rest. Lavender and chamomile have long been considered scents which have calming and relaxing properties, read more on this from the Happy Beds blog.

2. Light sleep

Light sleep is considered the first step to getting a healthy night’s rest. During this stage your respiration starts slowing down, your heart rate decreases, and your body temperature lowers. Your brain starts working on its communication system and your ability to learn and remember however you'll still be sensitive to movement, temperature and noise making it easier to wake up during light sleep.

3. Deep sleep

According to the Rechtschaffen & Kales (R & K) Standard of 1968, deep sleep is often referred to as “slow-wave sleep”. During this stage, your brain waves are at their slowest allowing your body to start working on muscle repair and growth. Your muscles and eyes are also very relaxed during this period and it’s often difficult to wake people when they’re in deep sleep. Deep sleep is crucial for physical renewal, hormonal regulation, and growth.

4. REM sleep

REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep) is characterised by random rapid movement of the eyes, with low muscle tone throughout the body and the ability to dream vividly. This is the state of sleep stimulates the areas of your brain that are essential in learning and making or retaining memories. Over time, our REM sleep cycle time decreases so adults only experience around 20-25% of their sleep cycle in REM, whereas for children it can be around 50%.

How much sleep do I really need?

The Sleep Foundation advises that most healthy adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, however with our busy and hectic lifestyles juggling work and home life, this can be optimistic. It’s important to consider other factors such as daily activities and overall health when deciding how much sleep you need if you need sleep help.

The UK’s NHS website suggests adults need anywhere from 6 to 9 hours of sleep per night, and have suggested the following tips if you’re having difficulty sleeping:

  • Sleep at regular times - set a regular bedtime schedule for you and the family, this will programme the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
  • Make sure you wind down - Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. There's lots of ways to relax before bedtime such as running yourself a hot bath, listening to relaxing sleep music, writing to do lists for the next day and making sure you avoid too much screen time with your electronic devices.
  • Make your bedroom sleep friendly - so you’re ready for the perfect night’s sleep, your bedroom should be a calm and relaxing environment. Ideally it should be dark, quiet, tidy, and kept at a low temperature.
  • Keep a sleep diary - writing down your daily thoughts could uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness.