How to Get More Rest Through Understanding the Stages of Sleep

Our bodies require sleep in order to maintain proper function and health. In fact, we are programmed to sleep each night as a means of restoring our bodies and minds. Two interacting systems: the internal biological clock and the sleep-wake homeostat largely determine the timing of our transitions from wakefulness to sleep and vice versa. These two factors also explain why, under normal conditions, we typically stay awake during the day and sleep at night.

During sleep, the body moves through five different stages of both REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. Over the course of the night, the body will go through this five-stage cycle four to six times, spending an average of 90 minutes in each stage.

Each stage of sleep serves a unique restorative function, including muscle recovery, hormone regulation, and memory consolidation, making it essential to allow enough time to cycle through all sleep stages. Without a full night of sleep, your body and mind are deprived of the essential elements needed to help you conquer the day.


Stage 1

Stage one of sleep, also known as the transitional phase, occurs when one finds themselves floating in and out of consciousness. During this NREM stage, you may be partially awake while your mind begins to drift off.

This period of drowsiness eventually leads to a light sleep. It’s that moment when you feel awake but you also notice your mind is drifting away.

During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow.  Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns.

This is also the time when the muscles jerk, followed by a falling sensation that jolts you back into consciousness. This experience is known as hypnic myoclonus. After winding down in stage one, your sleep cycle will slip you into stage two.


Stage 2

Almost 50% of the time spent asleep over the course of the night is spent in stage two. Stage two is also a non-REM phase and is one of the lighter stages of sleep. Even though it is a light stage, the body begins to prepare for deep sleep as the heart rate begins to slow and the core temperature decreases.


During stage two, eye movement stops and brain waves slow with the occasional burst of electrical activity called sleep spindles. Stage two can also be characterized by the unstructured periods that alternate between muscle tone and muscle relaxation.


Stages 3 & 4

Stages three and four are characterized as the deep stages of sleep and are often the hardest to wake up from. If you try to wake someone up when they are in stages three or four, they will most likely be disoriented and groggy for minutes after they awake. Stages three and four are often grouped together because they are the periods of slow wave sleep (SWS).

Slow wave sleep is a NREM phase of sleep and is the deepest sleep that your body enters throughout the night. It is called slow wave sleep because the brain waves slow to what is known as delta waves with the occasional faster wave. As the body moves from stage three to stage four, the number of delta waves increases and of the faster waves decreases.

In addition to the deep sleep caused by the delta waves, blood pressure drops even further and breathing becomes deeper, slower, and more rhythmic. During slow wave sleep, there is no eye movement and the body becomes immobile.

However, even though there is no muscle movement, the muscles still have the ability to function. These are the stages when children sometimes experience nightmares, bedwetting, and sleepwalking. These behaviors are known as parasomnias and tend to occur during the transitions between non-REM and REM sleep.

Stages three and four of sleep are extremely rejuvenating to the body.  Blood supply to your muscles increases and your body grows and repairs tissue, releasing hormones that are critical for recovery, growth, and development. During slow wave sleep, hormones are released that aid in both growth and appetite control.

The growth hormones help to replenish muscles and tissues that were exerted over the course of the day, and the appetite-controlling hormones help limit feelings of excessive hunger the following day.

These hormones are essential to the development of a strong body and help control unnecessary over-eating. In addition to the release of critical hormones, the blood flow to the muscles increases, providing restorative oxygen and nutrients.


Stage 5

Stage five is the only stage of rapid eye movement (REM) and is unlike any other sleep phase because the brain is bursting with activity. Most adults spend about 20% of sleep in REM, while infants spend almost 50%. During non-REM sleep, the mind rests while the body heals, but in REM sleep the mind energizes itself while the body is immobile.

REM sleep is called as such because the eyes dart in various directions while the limbs and muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Breathing becomes shallower and irregular while the heart rate and blood pressure rise from the levels they were in previous stages.

Most dreaming takes place in stage five as a result of heightened, desynchronized brain waves, almost similar to being awake. This stage of sleep revitalizes the brain, supporting sharp and alert daytime function.

Individuals begin waking up at the end of stage 5. Upon waking up, an individual’s core body temperature begins to rise in order to prepare the body for the activity of the day ahead.


Waking Up in the Middle of a Sleep Cycle

That disoriented feeling you get after waking up from a nap is probably due to waking up during stage three or later.

When we don’t complete our sleep cycles or our sleep is interrupted, especially during the deep sleep stage when interruption can lead us to become sleep deprived.

This is why after weeks or even days of not having enough sleep, we feel run-down or weary. Good sleep health is essential to our total well-being.

Medical experts define sleep deprivation as “when an individual fails to get enough sleep.” It sounds simple enough, but the effects on our daily lives can be both severe and widespread. Roughly 20% of adults suffer from sleep deprivation.

The signs of sleep deprivation may include irritability, increased fatigue, lack of focus and concentration, poor coordination, reflexes, and attention.


How to Optimize Your Sleep Cycles
1. Keep a Consistent Schedule

Stick to the same bedtime and wake time every day — including on the weekends. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule helps you regulate your body clock so you can fall asleep quicker and wake up easier.

2. Power down bright lights/screen time at least an hour before bed

We all have busy lives and our phones, tablets, computers, and TVs call us for work or play constantly. Removing the bright light and the stimulation will help get your body readier for its sleep cycle.

3. Choose a thermo-regulating mattress

A good mattress helps you get quality, uninterrupted sleep each night. Using thermo-regulating fabric like open cell Quantum memory foam helps by promoting your body’s optimal core temperatures throughout the night. In turn, this helps trigger your body to get to sleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed.

4. Skip the Snooze

Once your body becomes familiar with a routine, it’ll prepare itself to wake up during the lighter stages of sleep. But the snooze button turns this process on its head. That extra bit of sleep will leave you feeling more tired if the second alarm wakes you during deep sleep.

5. Stay on Track

Sleep trackers monitor movement to estimate total sleep time and after-sleep waking. By receiving personalized insights, you can analyze your overall sleep performance and adjust your schedule accordingly. Some sleep trackers even track your sleep patterns in order to wake you up during light sleep.

6. De-stress

Easier said than done, of course. However, as you reduce your stress, be it through the help of meditation, stretching, acupuncture or lifestyle shifts, you can calm your mind and body and give yourself a better chance at a better night’s rest.


To check out the WHISPER mattress and get started on your journey to the best night’s sleep of your life, check out the link below. We offer a 100-night risk-free trial: