Sleep stages, including REM sleep, give us clues to the mysteries of how we sleep and the purpose of rest and sleep. Sleeping is as natural and as important to your health, as eating.
Sleep is actually an altered state of consciousness, and it looks like you are unconscious. While most people think that sleep is black and white (you are either awake or asleep), sleep has several different levels or stages.
Everyone goes through these stages when he sleeps, but people vary in the amount of time spent during each stage of sleep.
Healthy Sleep Patterns
Most of the time you lie down in bed and slip gently into sleep—or so it seems. But it is a lot more complicated than that.
Sleep is not a single state, but a complicated combination of states. Some sleep is light and some sleep is heavy. And you only dream during certain stages of sleep.
Studies have shown that nearly half of Americans have suffered from sleeplessness at one time or another. In fact, it is estimated that 50 million Americans have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep—each and every night!
That means that a lot of people are tossing and turning each night. And the reason for most of the sleeplessness—is STRESS!
Normal sleep has sleep stages that occur in cycles each night. These sleep cycles vary somewhat from individual to individual, but in order to be rested, you must experience each cycle.
While most people think of sleep as being passive, it really is quite different from that. Our minds and bodies are relatively active during different stages of sleep.
While there is much that we still don’t know about sleep, scientists have identified distinct stages of sleep that occur in 90 minute cycles…
The Stages of Sleep
Everyone goes though these stages, but we each spend different amounts of time in each stage.
- Stage 1 – Hypnogogic Sleep – This is the very first stage of sleep. During hypnogogic sleep, we transition from being awake to being asleep. Hypnogogic sleep is kind of a twilight zone. We’re not really daydreaming, nor are we really dreaming. This stage only lasts for 1 to 10 minutes, and, during this stage you go from being relaxed but awake, to being asleep. Your breathing gets deeper and regular and, during this stage, you can be awakened easily. But you would say that you were not asleep! You might see flashing lights or geometric designs or you may experience a floating sensation or the feeling of falling.
- Stage 2 Sleep – During this stage you are asleep. Your body is more relaxed and you become less responsive to your environment. You can still be awakened easily, but, this time, you will know that you were asleep. Stage 2 sleep lasts for about 20 minutes.
- Stage 3 Sleep – This is deeper sleep, and you cannot be awakened easily during this stage of sleep. During stage 3, your heart rate slows down and your body temperature gets cooler.
- Stage 4 Sleep – When you enter stage 4 sleep, you are in a very deep sleep. Attempts to awaken you with an alarm clock or other means don’t work too well. If you do awaken during this stage, you will be disoriented for a few minutes. During this stage, your heart rate, breathing, body temperature and blood pressure are at their lowest levels.
Cycling Through Sleep Stages
The stages of sleep are very distinct, but, you don’t just go from Stage 1 to Stage 4 and then wake up. About an hour after you fall asleep, you start to reverse the stages. You go from Stage 4, through Stage 3 and then Stage 2.
Instead of going back to Stage 1, you now go through a period of REM (Rapid Eye Movement). This is an important stage, and you can read more about it below.
The time from Stage 1 to Stage 4 and then back to Stage 2 is a sleep cycle. Throughout the night, you will go through similar cycles, every 90 to 100 minutes.
REM or Rapid Eye Movement
Some scientists consider REM to a distinct stage, different from the first four stages of sleep. During REM sleep, we have dreams that are so vivid that we often remember them.
You are more physically active during the REM period, as well. Your eyes move rapidly. Your breathing and heart rate is fast and irregular. Blood pressure can go up or down. Men often have erections, and women have more blood flow to the vagina.
Your muscles however, are unresponsive and almost paralyzed. This may be so that you can’t act out the dreams that you have during the REM sessions. Many dreams are violent or would be dangerous, if you acted them out.
Throughout the night you continue to cycle in and out of REM sleep and NREM sleep (regular sleep). The length of sleep stages and sleep cycles varies from person to person.
Stress and Insomnia
There is a direct connection between stress and insomnia. In fact, almost everyone who suffers from anxiety or depression, also has difficulty sleeping.
Of course some of this sleeplessness is caused by medications that people may be taking for anxiety or depression—but not all of it.
Having stress in your life, whether work-related, relationship-related or stress caused by other circumstances—makes you VERY prone to having sleep problems. All the things that are bothering you, seem to go through your mind at bedtime.
Taking care of the stress in your life, learning new ways to relax, and establishing a healthy bedtime routine will go a long way toward helping you sleep well.
In addition, Hypnosis Downloads has an excellent hypnosis sleep program that can help you get back to sleeping restfully at night. It addresses getting to sleep, staying asleep and waking up at a normal time. If you have been having trouble sleeping well, why not check it out.