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Stages of Sleep

Non-REM Sleep

There are four stages of non-REM sleep. The first stage of non-REM sleep involves falling to sleep as you transition from wake to sleep. It usually lasts 1 to 5 minutes and occupies approximately 2-5 % of a typical night’s sleep. Disorders such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea dramatically increase the first stage of non-REM sleep. The second stage occupies approximately 45-60% of sleep of a typical night’s sleep. In approximately 10-20 minutes, Stage 2 evolves into delta or slow wave sleep that may last 15-30 minutes. Slow wave sleep is so named because brain activity slows dramatically during this stage. Most adults complete the two stages of delta sleep in the first two 90 minute sleep cycles or within the first three hours of sleep. Delta sleep is the deepest and most restorative sleep stage. Sleep-deprived people’s brains crave delta sleep most. In children, delta sleep can occupy up to 40% of all sleep time, making them difficult to wake.

REM Sleep

REM sleep is an active sleep stage, composing 20-25% of a typical night’s sleep. During REM sleep, breathing, heart rate and brainwave activity accelerate, and vivid dreams may occur. REM stands for rapid eye movement. If you watch a person in this stage of sleep, you will see his or her eyes moving. After REM sleep, the body returns to Stage 2 sleep.

Sleep Patterns

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you fall asleep easily but then wake up five hours later unable to fall asleep again? Do you wake several times during the night and have trouble staying asleep? If so, you are one of over 100 million Americans who experience some form of insomnia. Better sleep habits can help you improve your sleep.

Recommended Hours of Sleep

According to the Sleep Foundation (2021), getting too little sleep or getting too much sleep are both unhealthy patterns. Here are their recommendations for amt of sleep. However, some people need more hours of sleep than others

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day 
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours 
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours 
  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours 
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+):  7-8 hours 

Daytime Habits

  • Try to avoid naps during the day. If you have trouble sleeping at night but nap during the day, you will divert your body clock and have more difficulty sleeping at night. If you feel especially tired, nap for less than 30 minutes early in the day.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. Avoid drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages several hours before bedtime. Although alcohol may initially act as a sedative, it can interrupt normal sleep patterns.
  • Avoid use of nicotine products too close to bedtime. The stimulant, nicotine, can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
  • Many over-the-counter and prescription medications disrupt sleep. Speak to a pharmacist or physician about how medications may be negatively impacting your sleep. 
  • Expose yourself to bright light or sunlight soon after awakening. This will help to regulate your body’s natural biological clock. Likewise, try to keep your bedroom dark while you are sleeping so that light does not interfere with your rest.
  • Exercise early in the day. Exercise can help you sleep better, if not done so much and too closely to bedtime, as it will then stimulate the body and may make falling asleep more difficult. 

Improve Your Sleep Environment

Try to make your bed as comfortable as possible. Try shaped foam pillows that cradle your neck or extra pillows that help you sleep on your side. Get comfortable cotton sheets. Make your bedroom primarily a place for sleeping. It is not a good idea to use your bed for paying bills or studying. Let your body recognize your bed as a place for rest or intimacy. Keep your bedroom peaceful and comfortable. Make sure your room is well ventilated and of a consistent temperature. Use a fan or a white noise machine to help block outside noises. An illuminated digital clock may make you anxious. Place your clock so you can’t see the time while you’re in bed.

Pre-Sleep Rituals

  • Regulate your schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Listen to soft music or sip a cup of non-caffeinated herbal tea right before bed to tell your body it’s time to slow down and prepare for sleep.
  • Relax for a while before going to bed. Practice relaxation techniques or breathing exercises.Take a shower or a warm bath before bed. Try listening to recorded relaxation or guided imagery programs. Do some leisure reading. 
  • Only eat a light snack before bed. Large, heavy meals can interfere with your normal sleep cycle.
  • Drink warm milk before bedtime. Milk and dairy products soothe you, but they also contain tryptophan, a natural sleep enhancer. The warmth may temporarily increase your body temperature and the subsequent drop may hasten sleep. Drink enough fluid to keep you from waking up thirsty but not so much that you are awakened by the need to use the restroom.
  • Jot down your concerns and worries. Think about possible solutions before you go to bed so you don’t need to ruminate in the middle of the night. A journal or to -do list may help you set aside your concerns until tomorrow.
  • Go to sleep when you are sleepy. When you feel tired, go to bed.
  • Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids and make sure your prescribed medications do not cause insomnia. There is little evidence that supplements and other over-the-counter sleep aids are effective. In some cases, there are safety concerns. Antihistamine sleep aids, in particular, can cause daytime drowsiness. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about your concerns.

Falling Back to Sleep

  • Practice visualization or a mindfulness activity, such as focusing your attention only on your toes. Visualize walking down an endless stairwell. Repetitive or mindless thoughts will help your brain shut down and adjust to sleep.
  • If you are unable to sleep after about 20 minutes, get out of bed. Go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
  • Avoid mental stimulation. Don’t read anything job-related or watch television. TV commercials and news shows tend to alert you. Don’t expose yourself to bright light. The light cues your brain that it is time to wake up.
  • Eat turkey. Turkey contains tryptophan, a natural substance that enhances sleep. Foods with tryptophan raise your body’s serotonin levels, which make you feel sleepy. Eat tryptophan on an empty stomach. Other foods such as milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, chicken, cashews, soy beans and tuna also contain tryptophan.

Keeping a Sleep Diary

A daily sleep diary can help you determine your sleep patterns and what might cause your sleep problems. In each diary entry, record the following information:

  • The times you went to bed and woke up
  • How long and well you slept
  • When you were awake during the night
  • How much caffeine, alcohol, or other substances you consumed and when
  • What you ate and drank and when
  • What emotional stress you had
  • What drugs or medications you took

If you continue to struggle with sleep difficulties with improved sleep hygiene, you may want to consult with a medical provider.