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Go to Bed! The Four Stages of Sleep — and How You Can Hit Them

Recovery May 20, 2020

Recently I wrote about doing some exercises to stay active since the gyms are closed and we are staying home a lot more. 

Several of you wrote back to say thanks for the tip and to tell me what you are doing to stay active. A common theme I heard from several of you was that you are using a Fitbit to track your activity. 

Several years ago we went to Orlando for a physical therapy conference. I took the family along so we could also spend a few days at Disney World. I tracked my steps daily and frequently hit over 20,000. WOW!!! 

I also use the Fitbit to track my sleep. For years I have given my sleep a subjective rating from 1-10, with 10 being fantastic but now I also use my sleep score from the Fitbit app. 

I am not sure how accurate it is but the Fitbit app will break down your sleep into the four stages: awake, REM, light and deep sleep. This is very interesting in that almost every night I “lose” 1 hour of sleep to being “awake” in stage 1. 

The Four Stages are: 

  1. Stage 1 non-REM sleep is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep. During this short period (lasting several minutes) of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches. Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns. 
  2. Stage 2 non-REM sleep is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep.  Your heartbeat and breathing slow, and muscles relax even further. Your body temperature drops and eye movements stop. Brain wave activity slows but is marked by brief bursts of electrical activity. You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.
  3. Stage 3 non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep.  Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to awaken you. Brain waves become even slower. 
  4. REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Mixed frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness. Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels. Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams. As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep. Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.

Now that you are an expert in the 4 sleep stages the important question is: How do we improve our sleep? Here are some of the tips I follow to get a good night’s sleep. 

  1. Turn off that device: The light from the TV, cell phones, iPads etc. can trick your brain into thinking it is daytime. This messes up your circadian rhythm (natural sleep cycle). I get off my phone at least 1 hour before bed time. 
  2. Chill Out: No, I don’t mean drink a margarita before bed. Set your thermostat so your room is cool. This will make it easier to fall asleep and help you relax. 
  3. Read: I have a stack of books next to my bed on various subjects. I am frequently reading 3-4 books at a time. I usually read for 20-30 minutes in bed. I know I have read enough when I re-read the same paragraph several times!!!
  4. Exercise daily: Getting regular exercise (20-30 minutes a day) will help with your natural sleep cycle. Just try not to exercise too late in the day as this may keep you up. 
  5. Reduce or avoid caffeine late in the day: My cut off time is 3PM. Caffeine has a 3-5 hour half life. Meaning that it takes 3-5 hours to eliminate half of the caffeine. For example, a cup of brewed coffee has 95mg of caffeine. If you drink a cup of coffee at 3PM this means that by 6-8 pm you would have approximately 47 mg of caffeine in your system. Iced tea by comparison has about 50mg per serving. 

If you are not sleeping well I suggest keeping a journal and try one or two tips mentioned above to improve your rest. Eliminate those bad habits and do more of what is working. 

In part II, I talk about the effects of not sleeping enough, and your health. 

Remember the KEY is to start so small that it is impossible to fail. 

Have a great week and let me know how you are doing with your sleep.  What did you find helpful that works for you?

Just a friendly reminder that MOSS Rehabilitation Center is here for you during these interesting times. So if there is something on your mind or you just want some interaction with the “outside world” then please let me know.

We are just a phone call, email or Facebook post away.

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