Everyone keeps saying you should sleep better in order to wake up fresh for the next day. Do you care for how much you get to sleep? What does “better” mean? Is “longer” enough? How does one even begin to pay more attention to sleep quality and sleeping habits? Nowadays there are numerous means of sleep monitoring, unless some clinical condition you don’t necessarily require advanced, complicated equipment and elaborated studies to raise your own awareness on what is happening when you sleep and how to sleep much more efficient. As such there is no more real excuse not to improve.
Well, if you already heard all these and if you totally agree with everything stated here, chances are that you are already “equipped” with some sort of sleep tracking device. If you are not equipped yet, then chances are you’re trying to buy one and decide on yet the best you can have. We have our own preferences, that’s right, but we are writing this not about describing our preferences in terms of sleep monitoring, neither we will talk about the accuracy some manufacturers claim or prove their smart devices have, instead we will rather provide a glimpse of what normal sleep consists of and break this information down into normal sleep routines, patterns and phases.
When you go to sleep, you are probably unaware of it, but starting even just before falling asleep, you are entering a flow of specific patterns, that follow well-known cycles of mental and physical changes within your body. Generally, sleeping is considered to consist of 2 main types of phases: there is rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM) and non-REM sleep (NREM). During sleep, REM and NREM alternate cyclically and contribute to physical, mental recuperation and memory consolidation.
REM sleep, also called the “active sleep”, is characterized by low muscle tone, low-amplitude high-frequency brain waves (alpha activity), and random, rapid movement of eyes, thus its name. REM is associated with dreaming, people awakened from REM sleep relate to have been dreaming. Scientists speculate that during REM sleep our arms and legs muscles are in a state of paralysis (REM atonia), a neurological barrier against acting out our dreams. REM sleep seems beneficial to mental recuperation and memory consolidation, REM is aiding a process by which creativity is enhanced. By unique ways of brain operating in REM, associative elements and new creative connections are formed.
REM sleep in many ways is physiologically similar to wakefulness, energy the brain consumes sometimes is even exceeding the energy use during wake. Brain can readily “fire” from REM much faster than from deep sleep, a stage of NREM.
NREM has 3 distinct stages of sleep, of which the 3rd stage is the deep, slow-wave, or delta sleep. As NREM sleep is progressing through its stages the brain is less responsive and it becomes increasingly harder to wake. People, awakened from NREM sleep, are reporting dreaming by far less than awakened from REM. Sometimes the 3rd stage is further broken down into another 2 distinct deep sleep stages, but this approach has been discontinued since 2008 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). In contrast with REM sleep, deep sleep is characterized by high-amplitude low-frequency brain waves.
Sleeping cycle at healthy adults begins with the NREM phase. The transition from wake to deep sleep is accompanied by: slowing down eye movement, slower and synchronized mixed-frequency patterns of brain waves. While deep sleeping the body system is rebuilding itself after a day of effort, substances ingested are synthesized into complex proteins, tissues are being regenerated, healing of muscles is stimulated by the secretion of growth hormones and the brain is being “refueled” by the restoration of glial cells. Following deep sleep, the sleeping cycle ascends in reverse to the lighter stage of NREM which in turn is preceding REM.
First REM episode might have a very short manifestation, but throughout the cyclical NREM-REM-NREM-… alternation subsequent REM episodes tend to become longer, deep sleep episodes shorten. One NREM-REM cycle is typically measured to around 100 minutes, and most healthy adults experience 5 of these cycles per night.
Sleeping patterns are also being influenced by age, physical activity and exercises, frequent disturbances of sleep, light, temperature, or other prior to sleep behaviors.
- 2%-5% – shortest, the first stage of NREM, transition from wake to sleeping
- 40%-60% – the second stage of NREM
- 40% – delta, deep sleep, the third stage of NREM
- 20%-25% – REM sleep
Popular smartbands include sleep tracking capabilities and wake you up at lightest phases of sleep, you only set a time-frame and this guarantees a fresh wake and a healthier start of the day.
By monitoring your sleep phases you can discover what is troublesome about you sleeping and know what to pay more attention to, in order to improve your sleep quality and quality of your life. With all this abundance of modern technology, coming at pretty accessible costs, there is just no good excuse for disregarding important aspects of your general well being and health in particular.
So, be well and take care!