When it comes to sleep, we can often become complacent at looking after our own sleep health and ensuring that we get the right amount of sleep. The strange thing with sleep is that as humans, we are the only species who actually put off going to sleep when our body tells us we need it. Just a couple more episodes to the end of that season on Netflix and we’re eating away in to our much needed restorative sleep. You probably acknowledge that you need more sleep, but do you really understand why and exactly how much?
The average person should be spending around a third of their life sleeping. During this time, our bodies replenish energy stores and make repairs where needed while our minds organise and store the memories from the day before it. While a third of your life is actually just a rough guide depending on your age, gender and health. Here’s a general guide from The Sleep Council to how much sleep you should get for your age.
So you know how much sleep we should be aiming to achieve each night, but how much do you know about the sleep cycle your body goes through each night? Understanding this may help you get the right amount of ‘shut eye’ for your own lifestyle.
When we first fall asleep, we enter a phase called NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. This is divided into into three stages, with each becoming progressively deeper. You can easily be woken from the first two phases of sleep which are very light, when you move into the third stage, NREM3 you fall into a much deeper sleep, in which being woken can leave you feeling groggy and disorientated. After this stage you move in to a phase called REM (rapid eye movement), this is where we dream.
Each of these cycles lasts for around 90 minutes and in order to feel fully refreshed when you wake up, you must experience all stages. Over the course of a full night sleep you should go through five of six cycles.
Using these cycles to time your sleep can help you to feel fully rested each morning. If you’re a fast sleeper, you can schedule your alarm to wake you after a set period of time consisting of full 90 minute chunks to ensure you don’t disturb your cycles. If you take a little longer to fall asleep you can get a general idea by testing how long it takes to fall asleep. To do this, place a baking tray next to your bed and hold a metal spoon in one hand, rest this arm over the end of the bed, so when you fall asleep and release the spoon, it will wake you and give you an idea of how long it take to fall asleep. Just make sure you make a note of the time so you can add this to the amount of time you decide you want to sleep for.
Here’s another quick guide on the phases you experience whilst you sleep.