Decoding the Different Stages of Sleep

Everyone needs at least six to eight hours of sleep every night to function properly, regardless of whether you are a stay-at-home-mom, a busy professional or a senior enjoying retired life. Many of us might take sleep for granted, probably because we are not familiar with the intricate details behind a good night’s sleep, which is divided into three stages.

Understanding the Different Stages of Sleep

Did you know that an average individual spends one-third of their life sleeping? While it might seem like a large portion to be spent sleeping, the importance of this can only be understood when we start seeing the effects of lack of sleep.

Sleep is an integral part of our mental and physical well-being and it is essential to get the required amount of sleep, every night to avoid accumulating a sleep debt and becoming sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation can lead to health conditions like high blood pressure, heart ailments, lack of attention during the day, excessive hunger and food cravings. Hence, it is essential to understand the importance of good sleep for staying healthy and active.

The Sleep Cycle

The sleep cycle is broadly divided into two, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM (NREM). An individual goes through three phases of NREM to reach REM and scientists who have studied sleep patterns believe that these cycles repeat over an average of 90-minute cycles.

The NREM stage makes up for nearly 75 percent of an entire night’s sleep quota and is further divided into three phases that can last from anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes each. These are called N1, N2 and N3 respectively.

The N1 stage refers to the first few moments when you start drifting into sleep. As you slowly disconnect with your surroundings and drift further into sleep, you enter N2. This is the onset of deeper sleep when the heart rate and breathing begin to relax and the body temperature drops a bit.

The best and most useful stage is N3, characterized by:

  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Slower breathing
  • Relaxed muscles
  • An increase in blood supply to the muscles to help tissue repair and growth
  • The release of growth and other hormones
  • Restoration of energy

The next stage is REM, which is reached, on average, after 90 minutes of falling asleep and can repeat in cycles of 90 minutes or more unless the sleep is disturbed. Studies show that babies can experience up to 50 percent of REM sleep in comparison to the 20–25 percent in adults.

The main features of REM include:

  • Improves cognitive and physical functioning during the day
  • Keeps the brain extremely active
  • Induces dreams
  • Causes constant eye movement, hence the name
  • Brings on the complete relaxation of the muscles
  • Refuels the body’s energy reserves
  • Reduces production of cortisol at bedtime and restores it in the morning to help you wake up refreshed and alert

Having understood the different stages of sleep that you have been experiencing your whole life, you can now go back and track your sleep patterns with simple fitness or sleep trackers to understand better how long you take to fall asleep, how long you stay asleep and whether your REM stage is consistently peaceful.

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What Happens When You Sleep? (n.d.). Retrieved from

What Are REM and Non-REM Sleep? (n.d.). Retrieved from