Woman sleeping in blue bed

Which sleep stage is most important?

We all know that getting enough sleep is important. In fact, it’s as essential as food and water.1 Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance.2

But the duration of sleep is only part of the story – quality of that sleep is also vital.1,2

Each night we go through multiple cycles of sleep, each comprised of 4 stages. And just to complicate things further, stages fall into one of two categories – non-REM  (NREM) or REM sleep, where the REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. But we’ll save that topic for another time.

What matters now is that each stage plays a part in allowing your mind and body to wake up refreshed.1 Most of us will experience four to six of these sleep cycles, each lasting around 90 minutes.3

While all the stages of sleep have a useful role, there is one stage that is the most important – deep sleep (Stage 3).4

Let’s quickly summarise the four stages1,2:

Sleep stage Type of sleep Duration What happens
Stage 1 NREM 1-5 mins The transition from awake to asleep. Heartrate, breathing, and brainwaves begin to slow
Stage 2 NREM 10-60 mins Things continue to slow down, muscles relax and your body temperature drops
Stage 3 NREM 20-40 mins This is the period of deep sleep that helps ensure you awaken refreshed and restored. Everything is at its slowest and it’s more difficult to arouse you
Stage 4 REM 10-60 mins Called REM because your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Brain wave activity is higher in this stage and this is when dreaming usually occurs
  • Many things happen during the deep sleep stage1, 4
  •       New memories are created and stored4
  •       The ability to collect and recall information is improved4
  •       The brain is given the opportunity to replenish energy in the form of glucose ready for tomorrow4
  •       The balance of hormones is maintained with the pituitary gland secreting human growth hormone during this stage, which helps tissues in the body grow and regenerate cells4
  •        It may also bolster the immune system and other key bodily processes1

Importantly, long-term interference with deep sleep may have an association with other conditions.4

Improving the chances of a good deep sleep

While we can’t force ourselves into a deep sleep, there are some steps we can take to increase the chances of it occurring.

  •        Establish a sleep routine – go to bed at the same time, begin unwinding and de-stressing before retiring for the night
  •        Try using an eye mask to block out light
  •        Try using special earplugs designed to block out unwanted sounds (like snoring)
  •        Practise good sleep hygiene – creating the best environment for sleep in your bedroom (see this link to learn more – ‘Why sleep is important’ blog)
  •        Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed
  •        Avoid devices that emit blue light – TV, phones, computer screens etc

You can learn more about light-blocking masks and earplugs for sleep here:

Dreamlight masks

Otifleks earplugs

Sources:

1. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/stages-of-sleep

2. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526132/

4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325363

5. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-much-deep-sleep-do-you-need

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