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Sleep Stages and Benefits of Deep Sleep

August 23, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team


Sleep accounts for one-quarter to one-third of the human lifespan. A good night's sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet. When you do not get quality sleep, your body suffers from serious physiological consequences.

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Sleep plays a role in functioning of the endocrine and immune systems. During sleep, most of the body's systems are in an anabolic state, helping to restore the immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems.

In this article, we will describe the stages of sleep and benefits of a Deep Sleep.

Stages of Sleep

When you sleep, your brain cycles through four stages of sleep. Stages 1 to 3 are what's considered non-rapid eye movement (N.R.E.M) sleep, also known as quiet sleep. Stage 4 is rapid eye movement (R.E.M) sleep, also known as active sleep or paradoxical sleep.

Non-REM sleep occurs first and has three stages: N1, N2, and N3, the last of which is also called delta sleep or slow-wave sleep.

REM sleep, also known as paradoxical sleep, represents a smaller portion of total sleep time. It is the main occasion for dreams (or nightmares), and is associated with desynchronized and fast brain waves and eye movements.

The sleep cycle of alternate N.R.E.M and R.E.M sleep takes an average of 90 minutes, occurring 4 to 6 times in a good night's sleep. The sleep cycle normally proceeds in the order: first, N1, then N2, then N3, then N2, and finally R.E.M.

R.E.M sleep occurs as a person returns to stage 2 or 1 from a deep sleep. There is a greater amount of deep sleep (stage N3) earlier in the night, while the proportion of R.E.M sleep increases in the two cycles just before natural awakening.

Let’s go over the 4 stages of sleep:

  • Stage 1

    The first stage of the sleep cycle is a transition period between wakefulness and sleep. During stage 1 sleep:

    • Your brain slows down,
    • Your heartbeat, your eye movements, and your breathing slow with it,
    • Your body relaxes, and your muscles may twitch,

    This brief period of sleep lasts for around five to ten minutes. At this time, the brain is still fairly active and producing high amplitude theta waves, which are slow brainwaves occurring mostly in the brain's frontal lobe.

  • Stage 2

    People spend approximately 50% of their total sleep time during N.R.E.M stage 2, which lasts for about 20 minutes per cycle. During stage 2 sleep:

    • You become less aware of your surroundings,
    • Your body temperature drops,
    • Your eye movements stop, and
    • Your breathing and heart rate become more regular.

    The brain also begins to produce bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity, which are known as sleep spindles. In this phase, memory consolidation takes place. Brain gathers, processes, and filters new memories acquired from the previous day. Body then slows down in preparation for N.R.E.M stage 3 sleep and R.E.M sleep, which are deep sleep stages.

  • Stage 3

    Deep, slow brain waves known as delta waves begin to emerge during N.R.E.M stage 3 sleep. This stage of sleep is also called delta sleep. This is a period of deep sleep where any noises or activity in the environment may fail to wake the sleeping person. Getting enough N.R.E.M stage 3 sleep allows you to feel refreshed the next day. During N.R.E.M stage 3 sleep:

    • Your muscles are completely relaxed,
    • Your blood pressure drops, and breathing slows, and You progress into your deepest sleep.

    During this deep sleep stage, your body starts its physical repairs. Meanwhile, your brain consolidates declarative memories such as personal experiences and other things you have learned.

  • Stage 4

    R.E.M sleep begins approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. At this time:

    • Your brain lights up with activity,
    • Your body is relaxed and immobilized,
    • Your breathing is faster and irregular,
    • Your eyes move rapidly, and
    • You start to dream.

    During R.E.M sleep, your brain's activity most closely resembles its activity during waking hours. However, your body is temporarily paralyzed. This is a good thing, as it prevents you from acting out your dreams.

    Like stage 3, memory consolidation also happens during R.E.M sleep. However, it is thought that R.E.M sleep is when emotions and emotional memories are processed and stored. Your brain also uses this time to cement information into memory, making it an important stage for learning.

Benefits of Deep Sleep

Glucose metabolism in the brain increases during deep sleep, supporting short-term and long-term memory and overall learning. Deep sleep is also when the pituitary gland secretes important hormones, like human growth hormone, leading to growth and development of the body. Other benefits of deep sleep include:

  • energy restoration,
  • cell regeneration,
  • increasing blood supply to muscles,
  • promoting growth and repair of tissues and bones, and,
  • strengthening the immune system.

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