How to Manage and Improve Your Sleep: Sleep Cycles and Stages

5.0 min read

People roughly spend a third of their life sleeping. Newborns need to sleep up to 17 hours daily, whereas adults usually require around 7-9 hours. We all know that sleep is one of the critical components of healthy well-being, playing a key role in our brain and body recovery. We need good sleep to decrease stress, improve our mood, and increase productivity. When we sleep, our bodies repair injured tissues, reproduce new cells, manage hormones, and process memories. When we don’t sleep well, we feel groggy, lack energy for daily activities, and have difficulty concentrating and learning new things. That’s why knowing the sleep “architecture” is essential to have a clue to your sleep improvement.

We’ll talk here about sleep stages, what a sleep cycle is and why it’s important, what factors deteriorate sleep quality, and also go over helpful tips on how to improve your sleep.

A sleep cycle

 

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What is a Sleep Cycle?

It may seem that sleep is an uninterrupted, uniform process between falling asleep and waking up. However, it isn’t like that. During the night, you go through several rounds of a sleep cycle, consisting of four alternating stages — drowsiness, light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. The normal sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes on average, and typically we pass four to six cycles a night. You have a deeper sleep in the initial 2-3 cycles, while a light sleep prevails in the final cycles. It’s easier to wake up during the lightest sleep — many experts advise tracking this period and overall sleep quality using a sleep cycle calculator.

 

Now let’s talk about the stages of the sleep cycle in more detail.

Quality using a sleep cycle

 

Sleep Cycle Stages

The first four stages refer to non-REM sleep, which means people have little to no eye movements when sleeping.

1.    Drowsiness

Normally, this stage lasts several minutes. We’re falling asleep and can still be easily woken up. The brain produces high amplitude waves, which slow its activity, and the muscles start relaxing. We sometimes can experience the sudden fall caused by spontaneous impulses the brain sends to limbs to “reactivate” the muscles.

2.    Light Sleep

This phase precedes deep sleep. The body temperature drops, the brain keeps slowing down, showing “sleep spindles” and random sparks of wave activity, and the eye movement stops. Light sleep usually continues for 20 minutes, and this is the longest stage taking around 50% of the total night sleep.

Deep Sleep

 

3.    Deep Sleep

The brain prepares for the deepest sleep and starts creating slow delta waves, which makes this phase known as delta sleep. While you’re in your heaviest sleep, your body intensively works on repairing damaged tissues, growing muscles and bones, and strengthening the immune system. If awakened during this stage, a person often feels disoriented and may need some time to get back to normal. This state is known as sleep inertia.

4.    REM Sleep

REM stands for “rapid eye movement” because eyeballs start moving after being still during the previous sleep stages. Usually, the REM stage in the first sleep cycle lasts 10 minutes, being prolonged to one hour in the following cycles. The heart rate and blood pressure increase during this stage, and the breath turns frequent and shallow. This is the time when your brain processes and consolidates the recent information to store it in long-term memory. It’s paradoxical, but whereas brain activity resumes in the REM stage, limbs get temporarily immobilized, and the reasons for this phenomenon are still being investigated.

 

At the end of the REM stage is best to wake up refreshed and energized. If you miss this moment, the next sleep cycle begins making it more difficult to shake sleepiness off.

 

What Affects Your Sleep Cycle?

The disruption of sleep cycles’ sequence and duration may cause a huge negative impact on our health. The most common factors affecting sleep quality are: 

Sleep disorders — some conditions such as sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, or chronic snoring may cause multiple night awakenings, which lead to shortening or skipping certain sleep cycle stages.

Sleep disorders

 

Age — compared to newborns who spend the biggest portion of their sleep in the REM stage, the REM sleep duration of adults is significantly shrinking. This sleep evolution is natural. However, it’s not rare when older people wake up several times a night and can’t go deep into slumber.  

Alcohol — despite the widespread delusion that it won’t hurt to have a glass of wine before sleep, studies prove that alcohol can result in significant sleep disturbances.

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How Can You Improve Your Sleep?

Sticking to a proper sleep schedule is probably the best way to enhance your sleep and hence, your well-being.

Here are some pieces of advice you can try implementing into your daily routine:

Improve your sleep

 

Avoid coffee and heavy dinner before bedtime. The tonic effect of caffeine may last up to five hours, so make sure you drink your last coffee no later than 4-5 PM. Also, opt for a light meal containing easy-digestible vegetables, low-fat fish, or chicken to prevent heaviness in your stomach.

Spend more time outside during the day. Take a walk to the office instead of driving. An appropriate dose of sunlight helps maintain healthy circadian rhythms.

Improve your sleep

 

Include regular physical activity in your schedule. You’ll soon notice an improvement in your sleep quality, exercising daily. However, do your sport at least 3 hours before bed; otherwise, you may be too agitated to fall asleep easily.

Take a limited-time nap. It’s a good practice to have a short nap during the day to boost your productivity, but it shouldn't last longer than 20-30 minutes to prevent you from being too active at bedtime.

Stop using your gadgets one hour before sleeping. The blue light emitted by electronic devices’ screens inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for making you sleepy.

Arrange a comfortable bedroom environment. It’s worth investing in a quality mattress and a bed to ensure you’ll have a healthy, uninterrupted sleep. If you or your close ones are chronic snorers, considering how to stop snoring permanently, then an adjustable bed may be the right solution.

An electric adjustable bed frame allows elevating your head by several degrees to release the pressure of sagging tissues on your throat and help the air move freely through your airways, reducing snoring. A mattress also matters. Depending on your preferred sleeping position, you can choose between memory foam, latex, or hybrid mattresses that provide different levels of flexibility and body support. Learn more about mattress types that work best for adjustable beds here.

Comfortable bedroom

 

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In Summary

Sleep is an important biological process that maintains our mind and body in good shape. Even though many factors may disturb our healthy sleep, knowing the sleep architecture helps us better manage our daily activities and sleep hygiene. We do hope the information from this article equipped you with actionable insights on how to improve your sleep quality! Read next about natural home remedies to fall asleep faster, and don’t hesitate to reach us should you have any questions about adjustable beds and mattresses. We’re here for you to help!

 

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