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Understanding Your Sleep Cycle and the Negative Effects of Interrupting it


Woman in white nightwear sleeps in bed with white linens

Have you ever gotten eight hours of sleep, yet woken up feeling like you got practically none? What happened? Most likely, you woke up a lot throughout those eight hours. While waking up a handful of times overnight when you hear the dog barking or need to roll into a comfortable position may not seem like a big deal, it is to your overall sleep needs. Why? Because of your sleep cycles. To put it simply, an interrupted eight hours isn’t a true eight hours!

Up until about 60 years ago, people, including scientists, believed that as a person drifted off to sleep, his or her brain and body would go into “shutdown” mode, entering a passive state that allowed them to recover from their day. What modern-day researchers have since learned is that sleep is a whole lot more complicated than that! In fact, while you're getting your nightly sleep, your brain goes through various patterns of activity in a predictable cycle.

Four Different Stages Of Sleep

There are four different stages of sleep; each are important and each are unique. These are Stage 1, Stage 2, and Stage 3, and REM sleep. This cycle doesn’t occur just once; it repeats itself as you sleep throughout the night. If you get a full night of sleep, you will go through each stage up to five times. If you’re waking up throughout the night, you may only be entering the first few stages each time and that’s a big problem. Let’s look at exactly why:

4 stages of the sleep cycle chart

Sleep Stage 1

 Within a few minutes or less of nodding off, your brain produces “Alpha” and “Theta” waves and your eye movements slow down. This is a very light stage of sleep, which means that you're still somewhat alert and can be easily woken. You can even typically still hear sounds around you. Occasionally in Stage 1, you may experience hypnic jerks or abrupt muscle spasms or even experience the sensation that you are falling. In many people, this actually wakes you up and you have to start falling asleep all over again!

Sleep Stage 2

 This stage is also fairly light, but you are fully asleep and not able to hear noises around you or jump awake suddenly any longer. Your body temperature decreases, and your brain is now producing a sudden increase in brain wave frequency known as “Sleep Spindles.” Essentially, your brain waves are slowing down. While this stage is important, your body hasn’t yet begun what it needs to do during sleep in order to feel rested afterwards.

Sleep Stage 3

 This stage is the beginning of deep sleep, as the brain begins producing slower delta waves. You no longer experience any eye movement or muscle activity. At this point, it becomes a little harder for you to be awakened, because your body becomes less responsive to outside stimuli. The brain produces even more delta waves and you move into an even deeper, more restorative stage of sleep next. This Deep Sleep is extremely important to a person’s overall health, because it’s during this sleep stage in which the body naturally heals itself. During Stage 3, your body replaces cells, heals wounds, and builds muscle tissue. Your immune system also gets a boost in this stage. It's most difficult to wake up during this stage.

REM Sleep

You generally enter Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, sleep about 90 minutes after initially falling asleep. During this final phase of sleep, your brain becomes more active and dreams occur. Your eye dart around (which is where the name of the stage originates!) as well as your heart rate and blood pressure increase. Your breathing becomes fast, irregular, and shallow. REM sleep restores your brain and is important for your learning as well as your memory. This last stage of sleep plays an important role because this is when your brain consolidates and processes information from the passing day in order to store it in your long-term memory.

When looking at this, it is easy to see why constant interruptions throughout the night mean you don’t feel rested in the morning. Waking up before you get the Deep Sleep and REM your body requires means you aren’t getting the right quantity of good sleep, even if the clock says it’s been enough time. Only sleeping in Stage 1 and Stage 2 means your body doesn’t rejuvenate, your mind doesn’t repair, harmful proteins aren’t cleared away, your memories aren’t stored well, your mood is affected, and much more.

When you call it quits for the day, your mind does some serious work! That is why it is so important to give your body everything it needs in order to sleep well. For everyone, this means a supportive and high-quality mattress, as well as breathable sheets and pillows that cradle your head and neck properly. Others may have more individual needs, like an adjustable bed or weighted blanket. At City Mattress, our Sleep Experts can help you discover and meet your exact sleep comfort needs. If you’re not feeling rested and energetic throughout the day or know for sure you’re waking frequently throughout the night, come into any of our 23 locations to speak with someone who can help you sleep better. After all, by optimizing your sleeping hours you can better maximize your waking hours!