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We’ve all experienced the effects at some point of a lack of sleep. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, a bad nights sleep is a common occurrence. So we thought it would be helpful to look into the science of sleep, as by understanding, as much as we can, why we sleep and the stages we sleep in, this may provide insight into the ways in which we can achieve better sleep quality.

When it comes to sleep habits, the Sleep Council found:

  • 70% of the population get less than 7 hours sleep a night (we should be getting between 7 and 8)
  • The average bedtime is 11:15pm
  • 1/2 of Britons say that stress/worry keeps them up at night
  • Recent research suggests an increase in exercise could improve sleep quality
  • 1 in 5 says replacing their bed would improve sleep
  • 4 in 10 say they feel more positive from a good nights sleep; 1/3 felt happy and almost 1/4 felt productive.

Sleeping is quite mysterious. To this day it still baffles scientists and sleep specialists everywhere. Although they feel there is still a long way to go in terms of fully understanding the function, they have deduced a fair amount. Like, did you know that we sleep in cycles?

Sleep cycles

Our sleep cycles are broken down into 4 sleep stages. Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) makes up the first 3, followed by a stage of rapid eye movement (REM)

  1. NREM phase 1 – light sleep
  2. Non-rapid eye movement phase 2 – light sleep
  3. NREM phase 3- deep stage of sleep
  4. Rapid eye movement- deep stage of sleep

In both stages 1 and 2, you’re in a light state of sleep. Your body is preparing and adjusting to sleep. In stage 1, you’ll go from partially awake to drifting off to sleep and a reduced brain activity, to stage 2 where your temperature and heart rate drops to settle you further into sleep. In both of these stages, you could roused relatively easily.

Stage 3 is regarded as the most restorative function of sleep, it is this stage that is essential for helping you to feel refreshed in the mornings. However, it makes up a very small portion of total sleep time. You’ll spender longer periods in this stage in the first half of your total sleep time. It is almost impossible to wake someone in this sleep cycle; you’re muscles are relaxed, brain activity, temperature and heart rate are all at their lowest point.

During stage 4, the rapid eye movement stage (REM), the brain is at its most active and is the stage associated with dreams. Although the brain is active, and other organs and functions get to work, your muscles stay in a state of relaxation. You spend approx. 20% of total sleep time in stage 4. If you get woken in stage 4, you’ll feel quite groggy and disorientated.

Struggling to sleep

The first sleep cycle takes around 90 minutes. From there, each cycle following will take approx. 100-120 minutes. In order to have a good night’s sleep, it’s recommended to complete 4-5 cycles in order to feel rested on waking.

Optimum time to get to sleep

There is actually an optimum time in which to be asleep. Our body, much like the earth, has a complete cycle of 24 hours. Because of these ingrained patterns developed through evolution, and the bodies mechanical processes (such as releasing of hormones etc.) the deepest and most regenerative process of sleep takes place during the hours of 10pm and 2am. It is during this time that our bodies are peaked for the optimal time for repair (DR Oz’s).

If you miss this crucial phase, you’re still likely to wake up feeling fatigued even if you had 4-5 complete cycles. It is also these first 4 hours of sleep (2 complete cycles) where we get the most benefit of sleep, as each stage is longer and more extensive. If we are to coincide the optimum number of sleep cycles, in particular the first two complete cycles, with this peak in regeneration it will have an instant and massively positive impact on our wellbeing, productivity and ultimately happiness.

Did you know?

It’s also between the hours of 12 and 1am when the fastest rate of skin-cell renewal occurs. If we’re not getting to bed in time to allow our skin to regenerate or we find our sleep interrupted, this can have a vastly negative impact on the appearance of our skin.

Top tips to try for a better nights sleep

  1. Try to get to sleep by 10pm to get the most benefit from sleep.
  2. Set your alarm by sleep cycles. If can’t face going to bed so early, be mindful of sleep cycles. For example, if you need to get up at 7:30am, you’ll need to be asleep by midnight. The maths: The first complete cycle takes 90 minutes plus an additional 3 cycles of up to 120 minutes = 7.5 hours total sleep.
  3. If you struggle to get to sleep, make sure the room is dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature to help you transition more easily.

If you’re looking for more science, or tips when it comes to getting a better nights sleep, we’ve shared some of our other sleep features below!

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