Updated: Oct 14, 2020
“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” — John Steinbeck
Maybe you haven't really given sleep or your sleep habits much thought? Maybe you live life by the quote “I’ll sleep when I am dead” (Benjamin Franklin, who died at 84 by the way of an abcess in his lungs that burst). Maybe just reading this subject is making you yawn….
I am here to change your mind. I am a pretty big fan of sleeping. You could say I am Sleep’s #1 FAN! If sleep had an Instagram, I would like all of its photographs, and comment on every post.
Of course, there are only so many hours in a day (precisely 24), and I understand that most of us have a lot on our plates, and we want to get as much done in each day as possible. Sleep and I have had an interesting relationship. I think most of us as kids had a pretty typical, consistent bedtime schedule. I think this usually benefited our parents too, giving them time to themselves at the end of the day while we slept. But the routine, whether we noticed or not, helped us too! But, the older we get, the more our sleep schedule changes. Maybe you have a job that doesn't end until later in the day, leaving you less time to do what you want at the end of the day, usually causing you to stay up later, but still having to wake up early to go back to work. Maybe you have trouble falling asleep in general? Maybe you're getting 8 hours of sleep, but still not feeling rested the next day?
The AMOUNT of sleep we get and WHAT KIND of sleep we get can have a HUGE effect on your mood, your energy levels, your concentration, your productivity, your heart health, your stress levels, your digestion, your immune system, your weight, your sex drive, your fertility, and so many more areas. We all know that one imbalance can cause more IMBALANCE in every area of our health and of our lives.
I am lucky enough to have a Fitbit (which I LOVE), and it tracks my sleep. If I didn't have my Fitbit in order to track my sleep, I would have never known that my sleep was so off whack: waking up a lot (tossing and turning), and that my stages of sleep were not long enough to allow me to feel rested in the morning. There was a moment where I just thought that's how everyone felt when they woke up. Maybe the only time we felt rested after sleeping was when we were children.
We can measure the QUALITY of our sleep by the patterns of brain waves that occur during our sleep cycle. Here is a little information on what the different brain waves that happen during sleep:
Alpha waves: “Power of Now”; falls in the middle of the brain wave spectrum; make you feel relatively calm and relaxed; normal amounts of alpha brain waves increase creativity and decrease depression and anxiety; you are awake, but you usually have your eyes closed and aren't processing much information
Theta waves: (this can also occur during deep meditation); affects thinking, memory, and intuition; “twilight” stage; this is where we dream (vivid imagery, intuition, anything beyond our normal consciousness when we are awake). These happen during light sleep or right before you fall asleep or wake up; these are slower than alpha waves. This is involved in restorative sleep.
Beta: These are below your Gamma waves in speed; they can be high beta (beta 3), mid beta (beta 2) or low (beta 1) beta waves when you are really thinking hard about something, or you just sort of mulling something over. They happen mostly when you are awake. They are involved in conscious thought and logical thinking, and tend to have a stimulating effect. Too much beta waves can cause anxiety, high arousal, an inability to relax, and stress; too little beta waves can lead to ADHD, daydreaming, depression, and poor cognition
Gamma waves: these are your fastest brain wave; responsible for cognitive functioning, learning, memory, and information processing; too much of this can increase anxiety, high arousal, and stress. Not enough can lead to ADHD, depression, and learning disabilities. These happen when you are really concentrating on something.
Delta waves: these are your slowest brain waves; are associated with the deepest levels of relaxation and restorative, healing sleep; helps us feel completely rejuvenated and promotes the immune system, natural healing, and restorative/deep sleep. If you wake after 8 hours of sleep and don’t feel rested, it is usually related to your delta waves levels. This brain wave is your “gateway” to spirituality.
As you can see, the different brain waves that occur can have a HUGE impact on how our brain functions, our mood, our productivity/focus/concentration, and how rested we feel.
So now that we have discussed the different brain waves, let’s talk about the FIVE different stages of sleep:
Stage 1: (1-5 minutes) This is a non-REM sleep stage that happens when you begin to fall asleep. It usually only lasts just a few minutes. Your heartbeat and breathing will begin to slow down, your muscles will start to relax, and you produce alpha and theta brain waves. There may be brief moments of muscle twitching
Stage 2: (30-60 minutes) This is another non-REM sleep stage that happens just before entering deep sleep. Your body temperature will drop, your heartbeat and breathing will slow even further, your eye movement will cease, and your brain waves will spike up and down creating “sleep spindles”. You spend more time in this cycle more than any other stage. Theta waves are still present here.
Stage 3: (20-40 minutes) This is another non-REM sleep stage, but this is the sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It is harder to wake someone during this stage, as it is the deep sleeping stage. Delta brain waves increase here, and heartbeat and breathing will slow even more. It occurs for longer periods of time during the first half of the night. Blood supply to muscles increases; Tissue growth and repair occurs; Energy is restored; Hormones are released, such as: Growth hormone, essential for growth and development, including muscle development
Stage 4: (20-40 minutes) This is the last non-REM sleep stage, but this is the deepest of the sleep stages. Along with stage 3, these are the most important stages as they lead to mental wellbeing and feeling rested. Delta brain waves increase here, and heartbeat and breathing will slow even more. It occurs for longer periods of time during the first half of the night. According to the new science, Stage 3+4 are now just ONE STAGE.
Stage 5: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) This is where most of our dreaming occurs. Awakenings occur more easily here. They happen intermittently with light sleep stages, and usually occur at the end of the sleep cycle. Your brain becomes more active here, and your heartbeat and breathing rate will increase. But your muscles will almost become paralyzed so that you don't accidentally act out your dreams. REM is associated with mood regulation, and dreams are an important way for your mind to work things out in a safe space.