1010 - The Sleep Blog

Our 10:10 series offers concise, informative, engaging content and insightful discussions that are redefining sleep. Learn about sleep’s impact on well-being and gain practical advice for a more restful sleep, all in just ten minutes. Redefine your sleep experience with us.

Welcome to Sleep Enlightenment!

The Sleep Cycle

Introduction to the sleep cycle and stages of sleep.

Firstly the science bit, The sleep cycle is a recurring pattern of stages that the brain and body go through during a night’s sleep. It’s typically divided into four stages, each characterized by distinct brainwave patterns and physiological changes. Sleep architecture and the cyclical nature of the sleep stages

Sleep architecture and the cyclical nature of the sleep stages

The breakdown of each stage in a cycle is known as sleep architecture. The sleep cycle consists of two main types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which repeat throughout the night.

It’s important to note that the sleep cycle is regulated by the circadian rhythm, an internal clock that influences the timing of sleep-wake cycles. Disruptions to this rhythm, such as irregular sleep schedules or exposure to light at night, can affect the quality and duration of sleep, leading to sleep disorders and other health issues. Understanding the sleep cycle also helps explain how certain sleep disorders, can impact a person’s sleep and health. 

So not only is the length of your sleep important, but the quality needs to allow multiple cycles to occur, let’s explore the Stages of Sleep in more detail.

Sleep stages illustration. The figure shows a pie chart of stages of sleep and a sleeping young woman on a white background. Healthy, proper sleep. Flat cartoon vector illustration.

NREM sleep is made of three different stages. The higher the stage of NREM sleep, the harder it is to wake up.

Stage 1: NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep

1. NREM Stage 1 (N1): This is the lightest stage of sleep. It’s the transition period between wakefulness and sleep. During this stage, your muscles aren’t fully relaxed but your brain is starting to reduce brain activity. You may experience muscle twitches and drifting thoughts. This stage stays consistent in its length of 1 – 7 minutes.

Stage 2: NREM sleep and its characteristics 

2. NREM Stage 2 (N2): This stage is deeper than N1. It’s characterized by a decrease in heart rate and body temperature, deeper relaxed muscles and slower breathing. Brainwave activity becomes slower, with occasional bursts of rapid brainwave activity known as sleep spindles. This cycle takes 10 – 25 minutes and gets longer with every cycle that follows. On average half of your sleep is taken up by this stage. 

Stage 3: NREM sleep and the transition to deep sleep

3. NREM Stage 3 (N3): The brain activity during this stage has an identifiable pattern of what are known as delta waves. For this reason, stage 3 may also be called delta sleep, slow-wave sleep (SWS) or deep sleep. This stage is the deepest and most restorative part of the sleep cycle. During N3, the body repairs tissues builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. there is evidence that deep sleep contributes to insightful thinking, creativity, and memory. You spend the most time in deep sleep during the first half of the night. N3 stages last 20 to 40 minutes in early sleep cycles, but get shorter as the night progresses, replaced by more time in REM sleep.

Stage 4: Deep sleep and its importance for physical restoration

4. **REM Sleep**: REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements and increased brain activity, which is similar to when you are awake. Physiologically, the body experiences temporary paralysis, known as REM atonia, to prevent acting out dreams. Your eyes and your breathing muscles are the exceptions to this rule. REM sleep is crucial for cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation.

While dreams can occur in any stage, this stage is associated with the most vivid of dreams, due to the increased brain activity. 

This stage occurs about 90 minutes into the cycle but gets longer during the second half of the night.


Factors influencing the duration and quality of each sleep stage

There is a specific pattern for sleep stages, but many factors can cause significant individual variation. These factors include age, recent sleep patterns, alcohol consumption, and sleep disorders.

  • Sleep debt is when you don’t get enough sleep for a long time. This can make it harder to sleep and lead to more sleep problems. It’s important to keep a consistent sleep schedule and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. This helps your body rest and recover. If you have trouble sleeping or have sleep problems, see a doctor for help.
  • Alcohol and some other drugs can also alter sleep architecture. For instance, alcohol decreases REM sleep early in the night, but as the alcohol wears off, there is a REM sleep rebound, with prolonged REM stages.
  • Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and other conditions that cause multiple awakenings can interrupt a healthy sleep cycle.
Strategies for improving the quality and efficiency of each sleep stage.

Getting a good night’s sleep is so important for your overall health and well-being! One of the best things you can do to improve your sleep quality is to focus on your sleep hygiene, which refers to your sleep environment and habits, which you can read about here, you can set yourself up for a more restful night’s sleep and help your body maintain its natural rhythm. Don’t forget that the right mattress, and pillows, can also make a big difference in how comfortable you feel at night! 

If you ever find yourself feeling excessively tired or experiencing other symptoms that suggest you might have a sleep disorder, don’t hesitate to speak with a doctor who can help you find the best way forward. By addressing any underlying issues, you might be able to enjoy more restful and rejuvenating sleep. Remember, there’s no need to suffer in silence when help is available!

Woman's dreams. Pretty girl is flying in her bed trough star sky.

As we grow older, the amount of time we spend in each sleep stage changes. This is because our body’s biological need for sleep tends to decrease over time.

Newborns and Infants (Birth to 1 Year)

It’s important to know that newborns have an irregular sleeping pattern, which is normal for the first few weeks of life. They tend to sleep for approximately 16 to 18 hours a day, but this sleep is not continuous, and the longest sleep episode usually lasts between 2.5 to 4 hours. Newborns experience three different types of sleep: quiet sleep (similar to NREM), active sleep (similar to REM), and indeterminate sleep. However, unlike children and adults, their sleep onset occurs through REM rather than NREM, and each sleep episode usually consists of only 1 or 2 cycles. Don’t worry, these sleep and sleep stage differences occur because their circadian rhythms have not yet developed. If you have any concerns about your baby’s sleep, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional for advice.

Babies develop their sleep patterns at around 2-3 months of age. At 2 months, they start sleeping more at night. By 3 months, their bodies start producing melatonin and cortisol in a cyclic pattern, called a circadian rhythm. They fall asleep with NREM, and their REM sleep shifts to later in the sleep cycle. The total NREM and REM sleep cycle for babies lasts for 50 minutes. By 6 months old, they can sleep for up to 6 hours at a stretch. At 12 months, most babies sleep for around 14-15 hours, with most of it happening in the evening and only needing 1-2 naps during the day.

Toddlers (Ages 1 to 3) and Children (Ages 3 to 9)

Did you know that as children grow up, their sleep needs change too? Between the ages of 2 and 5, they need 2 hours less sleep per day, going from a total of 13 to 11 hours. By the time they reach 6 years old, they tend to have developed a circadian sleep for either staying up late or waking up early. Children have longer REM sleep latencies than adolescents, meaning they spend more time in stage N3.

Adolescents (Age 10 to 18)

There’s a reason teenagers sleep more. They need to sleep 9 to 10 hours each night. During puberty, there are a lot of changes happening in the body, including hormonal changes that can impact sleep. As a result, the time it takes to fall asleep decreases and the time spent in stage N2 increases. It’s also common for teenagers to feel sleepy during the day, especially during mid-puberty. 

Adults (Age 18+)

As we age, our sleep patterns tend to change. Research has shown that adults aged 65 and older tend to wake up earlier, around 1.5 hours earlier than those aged 20 to 30. They also tend to fall asleep earlier, reducing their sleep consolidation. This means that they may experience more fragmented sleep and may wake up more frequently during the night. These changes in sleep patterns can be attributed to various factors, including changes in circadian rhythms and hormonal fluctuations that occur with age.

Gender Differences

Males generally spend more time in stage N1 sleep and tend to wake up more frequently during the night, which can lead to increased daytime sleepiness. On the other hand, females tend to maintain slow-wave sleep for a longer duration than males, but they may have more trouble falling asleep and report more difficulty in sleeping. Moreover, women usually experience increased daytime sleepiness during pregnancy and the initial few months after giving birth.

Adorable baby sleeping in blue bassinet with canopy at night. Little boy in pajamas taking a nap in dark room with crib, lamp and toy bear. Bed time for kids. Bedroom and nursery interior.
How Is Sleep Different For Athletes?

Extensive research has proven that getting more sleep can have a significant positive impact on athletes’ recovery and performance. It is highly recommended that athletes get between seven to nine hours of sleep every night, with elite athletes advised to get at least nine hours of sleep and to prioritize it as much as their athletic training and diet. 

Athletes can benefit from taking a nap after a night of insufficient sleep. In addition, athletes who expect to get insufficient sleep can benefit from getting more sleep in the nights leading up to the event. It is recommended to get extra sleep before important events such as travelling to competitions, before a big competition, and during times of illness or injury.

Stages of Sleep for Athletes

Each stage of sleep performs a unique and crucial function for the well-being of an individual. However, it’s vital to know which stage of sleep is the most advantageous for athletes.

Extensive research has shown a clear correlation between an athlete’s sleep patterns and their performance. The studies reveal that players who demonstrate an improvement in their performance display distinct sleep patterns compared to those whose performance drops. The improved players have less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, higher amounts of deep sleep, and lower respiration rates. This unequivocally indicates that sleep quality and duration have a direct impact on an athlete’s performance, and should be given the utmost importance.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or heard. Reliance on any information provided here is solely at your own risk. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately. The opinions expressed by this blog are not a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be interpreted as a diagnosis or treatment plan. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making any decisions about your health.

Sleep stages illustration. The figure shows a pie chart of stages of sleep and a sleeping young woman on a white background. Healthy, proper sleep. Flat cartoon vector illustration.

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