What is sleep and different stages of sleep?

April 21, 2017 | By Abhishek | Filed in: Lucid Dreaming.

What is Sleep: Sleep can be described as a condition of body and mind which typically occurs periodically for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes are closed, postural muscles relaxes and consciousness is practically suspended. Also, it is a state in which the person or an animal is less responsive to outward stimuli as compared to the usual waking state. This article consists of the explanation of phenomenon of sleep and its various stages. This article also explains the importance of sleep and suggests the best time for lucid dreaming during sleep stages.

Sleep and its related facts 

Sleep is considered as the mysterious part of our life. Although a sleeping person may appear inactive, but some functions of the brain and body are more active during sleep as compared to active or awakened time. Sleep scientists have inferred that sleep is associated to characteristic patterns of brain waves and certain physiological functions.

what is sleep

Stages of sleep

Every night your brain transforms from one stage to another during sleep and each stage has different effect on your body i.e., from physical restoration during deep sleep to memory consolidation during dreams. Thus, summing up, these stages add up to 90 to 110 minutes, which makes up one complete sleep cycle. Earlier, there were 5 stages of sleep, but due to the recent grouping of stage 3 and stage 4 into one group based on their similarities, we are left with four stages of sleep as follows.

  • Non-rapid eye movement sleep stage 1: In this stage, you have a light sleep from which you can be easily woken up. During this sleep phase, you begin to lose muscle tone which causes feeling of twitches and hypnic jerks. Also, you will experience hypnagogic hallucinations in which swirling light and color patterns will try to hypnotize your mind into a restful sleep. This stage marks the loss of self-awareness and most sensory attachments to the physical world. In this stage, your brainwave frequencies descend from alpha range of 7.5-12.5 Hz to theta range of 4-7 Hz.

stages of sleep

  • Non-rapid eye movement sleep stage 2: This stage is marked by a loss of nearly all muscle tones and your physical body feels unable to act out of forthcoming dreams. Even though your brainwaves have further slowed down, they continue to show brief bursts of higher brainwave activity which are known as sleep spindles or sometimes also called as K-complexes. In this stage, you experience a light dreamless sleep and spend around half of your sleep.
  • Non-rapid eye movement sleep stage 3 and 4: This stage consists of unconscious delta activity and is also known as slow-wave sleep. During this stage, the person is less responsive to the environment and most of the stimuli cause no reaction. If you are awakened in this stage, then you will feel dopey and confused for initial couple of minutes. This is another dreamless stage of sleep and is the most likely time for sleepwalking to occur.
  • Rapid eye movement sleep: This stage marks the onset of dreaming and is termed as paradoxical sleep because the person, despite of showing more active brainwaves, is difficult to awaken. If you are awakened from this stage, then you are likely to jump right back in it, during a later nap. Lack of rapid eye movement sleep will impair your ability to learn complex tasks and long term abilities.

Normal sleeping hours for an individual

Basically, the amount of sleep required differs from person to person, but as a rough guide experts have come up with the following daily sleep hours.

Newborns (0-3 months) 14 – 17 hours
Babies (4-11 months) 12 – 15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years) 11 – 14 hours
Pre-schoolers (3-5 years) 10 – 13 hours
Children (6-13 years) 9 – 11 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years) 8 – 10 hours
Adults (18-64 years) 7-9 hours
Elderly (65+ years) 7-8 hours

It is important that you notice how you wake up i.e., after how many sleep cycles you wake up.

Importance of sleep in life

When you are struggling to meet the demands of a busy schedule, then cutting back on sleep may be the only available option. Thus, sacrificing an hour or two of sleep, to get more work done looks like a reasonable trade-off, but the truth is that even minimal sleep loss takes a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, thought clarity, and ability to handle stress. It is important to note that long term chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your health. Your mental and physical health depends on the quality of your sleep, as it affects the quality of your waking life which includes your emotional balance, productivity, immune system, weight, creativity, and many other factors.

Sleep is not just a time when your body shuts off, rather it is duration in which your brain stays busy, overseeing biological maintenance which keeps your body running in excellent condition and prepares you for the next day. It is essential to note that without enough hours of remedial sleep, you won’t have the capacity to perform day by day exercises, for example, work, learn, make, and convey at a level near your actual potential. It is important to understand that you are likely to get more work done during the day rather than just skimping on shuteye and trying to work longer.

Best time for lucid dreaming during sleep stages

Usually, the longest and the most memorable lucid dreams occur in the fourth sleep cycles of the night, after about six hours of sleep. Normally, during these later sleep cycles, the duration of rapid eye movement sleep becomes longer. If you are unable to wake up to an alarm, then you will notice that you often wake directly from a dream. This is the most memorable dream time and when this phenomenon occurs don’t move, just allow yourself to gently re-enter the dream and think that you are dreaming.

Sleeping-in assists in extending real eye movement time in the morning and allows more vivid dreams to come thereby increasing your chances to become lucid. It is observed that if you wake to an alarm daily, then your sleep is likely to be interrupted mid-cycle and this is a common problem which explains that you are not a morning person. An alarm cuts your sleep short arbitrarily and don’t allow for your final phase of real eye movement sleep. It is considered better and healthier to wake up after this cycle is complete, which usually occurs when you don’t put an alarm.

lucid dreaming

Duration of lucid dreams

It is possible to measure the length of dream time using an Electroencephalography machine, which measures the electrical activity of the brain. Dreams are directly related to rapid eye movement sleep, to the extent to which your eyes can move and track in the same direction you are looking in the dream. From the brainwave readings, it can be inferred that real eye movement sleep lasts only for few minutes, at the end of the first sleep cycle.

Since, much of the first cycle is dedicated to non-rapid eye movement sleep which is driven by the need for physical rest. Therefore, these early dreams are often lasting for a very short time and you are unlikely to remember them, as they are unlikely to induce lucid dreams. While you sleep on through the night, your real eye movement sleep phases are likely to grow longer with each sleep cycle. By morning, your final sleep cycles may allow you for 45 – 60 minutes of uninterrupted real eye movement sleep and this is considered perfect for lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreams can last from a few seconds up to an hour in duration, which is almost like regular dreams. Usually, beginners find their lucid dreams collapsing within few seconds due to the overwhelming emotions of becoming lucid. However, after learning few dream stabilization methods, you can phenomenally prolong your lucid dreams. These dream stabilization techniques serve you to enhance the dream clarity and improve your ability to control them.


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