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Understanding Sleep Cycles & How it Affects Stress

Most of us, at some point, have had to stay awake for longer than our bodies want us to. Whether it be a very long flight or a brutal pattern of shift work, a lack of sleep might lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating, and grumpiness. What’s more, if you’ve ever snatched only fragments of sleep […]

Most of us, at some point, have had to stay awake for longer than our bodies want us to. Whether it be a very long flight or a brutal pattern of shift work, a lack of sleep might lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating, and grumpiness. What’s more, if you’ve ever snatched only fragments of sleep here and there, you’ll understand that there’s a difference between quality sleep and the opposite.

Sleep can be divided into several stages. To wake up feeling refreshed and invigorated, you need to spend at least a little bit of time in each of them. Over the course of a night’s sleep, you’ll cycle through each of them in succession, with a full cycle usually taking between 90 minutes and two hours. Let’s run through them.

Stage 1

This is the stage at which you’re midway between being awake and asleep. Even a slight sound or movement can wake you from this. Some people feel as though they’re literally falling at this stage – and sleep-starts, or hypnic jerks, are not unheard of.

Stage 2

Here’s where you’re actually asleep. Your heart rate will slow, and your body temperature will fall – which, if you’re wearing a heart-rate monitor, is how the device is able to log you as asleep. Here’s where delta-waves begin to occur – these are slow-moving, high-amplitude brainwaves associated with deeper sleep.

Stage 3

When you reach this deep, restorative state of sleep, you’ll be totally inert. If you’ve ever been woken by someone and needed time to get your bearings, it’s probably because you were in this stage. You might also lose control of your body: bed-wetting and sleep-walking occur during deep sleep.

Stage 4 (REM) 

This is probably the most famous stage of sleep, characterised by eyes moving quickly in different directions, and irregular breathing. The heart-rate goes up again, and the strangest dreams occur. Readers of a certain persuasion might recall an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which the Enterprise crew are denied REM sleep by a cosmic phenomenon, and begin to progressively lose their minds. 

If you’re sleep deprived, your memory and concentration will suffer in the same way. The good news is that when you do get to sleep, you’ll experience an ‘REM rebound’, where you’ll fall into deep and REM sleep that much more quickly.

How can I get to sleep?

You might have heard before that phones are bad for your sleep. A little more specifically, the modern habit of scrolling through a Facebook or Instagram feed in the moments before bed means that you’ll be stimulated and alert at exactly the wrong time of day. So, impose an hourlong moratorium on phone use just before you hit the sack. You can spend the time reading a book, or even just reflecting on the day’s activities.

Another modern convenience that’s bad for sleep is the bathroom. Your body has adapted to become alert and ready for action whenever it’s exposed to large amounts of light – which, to our ancestors, could have come only from the sun. But when we brush our teeth, we’re usually exposed to a very bright light source. For this reason, it’s worth getting all of your bathroom activities done long before you drift off to sleep. Of course, the blue lightproduced by your phone and television are the worst offenders.

To further ease the transition between awake and asleep, you might employ a few relaxing scents. Neom Organics provide a range of mist diffusersthat’ll help you to unwind over the course of that last peaceful hour before you finally drift off!

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