May 28, 2021

The Stages of Sleep and Why They Matter

Why Sleep is Important

When I think of personal health and wellness, three big categories come to mind. Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Sleep. Slack off in any of these areas, and your health will decline. Additionally, we are beginning to learn that sleep is probably the most important one of the 3 and should be prioritized and protected. This means you must plan your bedtime and wake-up routine to maximize your health.

Sleep has wide-ranging benefits from improved cognitive function, brain and muscle repair, to immune system health. In this blog, we will discuss the stages of sleep, why they matter, and strategies we can use to improve the length of sleep and quality.

Stage 1 of Sleep

This stage of sleep is the transitionary period between wakefulness and sleep. It only lasts about 10 minutes, and during this time, your brain wave activity, breathing, and heartbeat begin to slow. In addition, your muscles relax and will sometimes twitch. During this period, you are barely asleep and can be easily awakened.

Stage 2 of Sleep

During this stage, your heartbeat, muscles, and breathing slows even further. Eye movements stop completely, and your body temperature begins to drop. We are still in light sleep here and about to enter the deeper restorative stages of sleep. This stage lasts roughly 45 minutes.

Stage 3 of Sleep

This is our deepest and most important stage of sleep. About 60 minutes after you fall asleep, your body and brain are in their most relaxed and slowed state. It isn’t easy to wake up once at this point. Stage 3 is required for cellular repair, regeneration, and growth to occur. Immune memory and response are reinforced here. This level of sleep is what helps you feel refreshed and renewed in the morning.

Stage 4 of Sleep

This is the final stage of sleep. It is what we call our REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. About 90 minutes after you fall asleep, your eyes start rapidly moving from side to side beneath the eyelids. Brain activity accelerates. Breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate quicken. The vast majority of dreams occur here, and the body even becomes paralyzed so that you don’t physically act out your dreams.

Once REM sleep ends, our brains go back to the beginning stage, and the sleep cycle begins again. This process repeats itself 3-4 times per night.

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Sleep as a Strategy for Health

Due to the cyclical nature of sleep, it is vitally important that we not only get enough sleep, but it also needs to be undisturbed. Therefore, we need to begin to think of sleep as less of an obligation that we begrudgingly partake in and start to strategize ways to make it optimal for health.

  • An average adult needs 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. No exceptions, no excuses. No, you are not the type of person that can function on 5 hours of sleep. You don’t know how shitty you actually feel compared to if you were rested. Don’t be dumb; prioritize sleep.
  • Set an earlier wake-up time. The first few days might be a little rough, but your body will adjust pretty quickly to the new time, and you will start getting tired earlier in the night. So to go to bed earlier, wake up earlier.
  • Manage your light. When you bask in the glory of the midday sun, your body releases the hormone serotonin that helps you feel more awake. Take an outdoor walk during lunch for a midday boost which may help lessen the 2 PM lul that most people feel. Also, you get the bonus of added Vitamin D production. Additionally, it would help if you reduced the blue light expose of screens at least an hour before bed to promote the release of our go-to sleep hormone, melatonin.
  • Do not partake in any form of stimulant like caffeine later in the day. Caffeine binds to receptors that help hormones make us tired. When those receptor sites are bound, you will not get the normal hormonal signal and stay awake longer.
  • Do not take long naps. For those of you that take a nap during the day try to limit that nap to no longer than 30 minutes.
  • Optimize your sleeping space. Light of any form can disrupt the stages of sleep, thereby limiting the amount of recovery we benefit from during slumber. Make your room as dark as possible to mediate this. Similarly, close your bedroom door if possible and keep the room cool. We want as few disruptions as possible to minimize disturbances to the sleep cycle.

Sleep for Life

Now that we know sleep plays a huge role in our overall health we can begin to prioritize it and reap the rewards. Start forming optimal sleep habits now and be a healthier version of you in the future. Please share any sleep strategies that you partake in and we will share it on our Fat and Broke Podcast. Thanks for reading. #BetterEveryDAY

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