Regulation of sleep

When we sleep, our bodies undergo various cycles and stages commonly referred to as “sleep architecture.”1 Your sleep architecture helps regulate your body’s internal “clock”, which controls the production of melatonin – the sleep hormone that makes you feel sleepy.2 During sleep, your melatonin levels rise sharply.2 Over the course of the night, your total sleep is made up of several rounds of the sleep cycle, which is composed of four stages.1 While sleep isn’t uniform, most people typically go through 4-6 of these cycles lasting about 90 minutes each.1

The sleep-wake cycle

During sleep, your brain can process information, consolidate memory, and enable you to learn and function effectively during daytime.2 Four stages make up each sleep-wake cycle.1 3 One stage is for rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and the others are for non-REM (NREM) sleep.1 3 It is important to undergo each sleep stage in each sleep-wake cycle, as they allow the brain and the body to recuperate and develop.1

The stages of sleep

NREM Stage 1: N1

This stage is the bridge between being awake and sleep.2 You drift in and out of light sleep during this stage and can be woken up easily.2 It is during this stage that you begin to breathe more slowly and evenly which also slows down your muscle activity.2 You might twitch because of this and sometimes even be woken up by a particularly hard jerk accompanied by the sensation of falling.2

NREM Stage 2: N2

After a few minutes in NREM Stage 1, you pass into NREM Stage 2 – another form of light sleep.2 Your breathing pattern slows down further and your heart rate slows down as well.2 You become less aware of the outside world, but will not feel as if you have been sleeping should you be woken.2 This stage accounts for the largest part of human sleep and is sometimes referred to as true sleep.2

NREM Stage 3: N2

Also known as deep sleep, it is harder for you to be woken up when you enter into NREM Stage 3.1 Your breathing pattern and heart rate slow down further, and your muscle tones also relaxes.1 This stage is critical for restorative sleep, as it allows for bodily recovery and growth.1 It may also bolster the immune system and other key bodily processes.1 Even though brain activity is reduced, there is evidence that deep sleep contributes to insightful thinking, creativity, and memory.1

REM Sleep

As you can, sleep is a much more complex process than many people realise, but it is crucial to your health.2 The link between sleep and health is two way.2 Your sleep shouldn’t be treated as an inconvenience and should be taken seriously.2

Your brain activity picks up during REM sleep, nearing levels seen when you’re awake.1 Your body also experiences a temporary paralysis of the muscles with the exception of the muscles in your eyes and the muscles that control your breathing.1 REM sleep is crucial for cognitive functions and is known for the most vivid dreams.1

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