Stages of Sleep and Setting a Sleep Routine
Do you struggle getting to bed at a decent time or have trouble falling asleep? Creating a sleep routine can help promote better sleep and improve your sleep-wake cycle. Pete Bils, Sleep Number Vice President, Sleep Science & Research, shares tips on how to fall asleep faster and how the sleep cycle affects our bodies throughout the night.
The ability to fall asleep is compared to climbing Mt. Everest … well not really, but close enough, right? 😉
The body recognizes it is tired when it has built up enough sleep debt. Our bodies are designed to balance 16 hours of wakefulness with eight hours of sleep. The pressure to sleep builds all day, though it isn’t linear, so you don’t feel more tired each successive second of the day. The body’s internal clock relies on circadian rhythms to balance the two systems of being asleep and awake. During the day, the body uses chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline and controls body temperature to fight off the need for sleep until nighttime.
When it’s time to go to sleep, the body produces melatonin, which signals the heart rate to drop and body temperature to go down. The release of melatonin is triggered by circadian rhythms at dusk when light diminishes. In modern lives filled with artificial light, we can help signal to our bodies that it’s time to begin preparing for sleep by using dimmer light with softer, more golden (less blue) tones. Typically, people take 10-20 minutes to fall asleep. Falling asleep instantly as your head hits the pillow or lying awake for hours are both symptomatic of sleep problems.
A consistent sleep schedule reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. Check out this video for a quick tip to get better sleep.
Think of your sleep cycle as a timeline for your life – with its highs, lows, and everything in between.
Beginning to Fall Asleep
In this stage, the body begins to experience very light sleep. Brain activity is similar to that of the awake brain. When you find it hard to fall asleep, just tell yourself what the little train that could said, “I think I can, I think I can ….”
To better prepare your mind for sleep, check out this quick tip from, Pete Bils, Vice President, Sleep Number Sleep Science & Research.
The light sleep (N2) stage accounts for 50 percent of the night. The body maintains regular heart and breathing rates while body temperature drops. Though sleep in this stage is light, it is important – it’s not just a placeholder between the cycles of slow wave and REM dream sleep. Stage N2 sleep is key for building motor skills and alertness. The brain establishes neural connections involving muscle memory necessary for learning skills, such as playing an instrument, typing or riding a bike.
During these stages of deep sleep, called slow-wave or delta sleep, the brain slows and goes “offline” while the body is restored. Blood pressure drops, breathing slows, muscles relax and the blood supply to the muscles increases. Hormones are released – including 80 percent of the body’s daily allocation of the human growth hormone – helping to restore and repair the body. This phase is critical for the health of the body’s immune function, alertness, tissue growth and recovery from workouts and injuries.
Nighttime exercise buffs should finish workouts at least 3 hours before bedtime – this allows your body to cool down and get the optimal sleep you need to help you recover from your workout.
During REM, dream-state sleep, the brain fires up again and is even more active than when awake. The body will respond to stimuli from the environment during REM sleep. This stage includes the highest level of neural activity as information is relocated from short-term to long-term memory. Repeating key information throughout the day indicates to the brain that this priority information should be preserved. During REM sleep, the brain is building creativity and complex learning, problem solving and executive functions including intuition, insight, spatial orientation and perceptual skills.
What Works for You?
Our minds constantly race, especially when it’s time for slumber. Things such as, “What will I cook for dinner tomorrow?” or “What am I going to wear to work?” can keep you from getting the Zzzs you need. A couple suggestions are to journal your thoughts and set them aside for the next day or lay your clothes out the night before.
Create a sleep routine that helps you get the quality sleep you need. It’s okay to try 100 different things, some may work and some won’t, because as Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
For more information on how to get quality Zzzs, visit our white paper.
Are you constantly traveling? Check out how you can bring your sleep routine on the road.