You’ve been taught since childhood that getting about 8 hours of sleep per night is the ideal amount of sleep. While it is true that 8 hours of sleep is a good quantity sleep goal for most adults, what about sleep quality? Sleep quantity refers to the amount of sleep, whereas sleep quality refers to the amount of time we spend in the deep stages of sleep.
The 5 Stages of Sleep
There are five stages of sleep: 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement). When we fall asleep, we will progress through each stage of sleep in a cyclical manner. On average, one complete cycle takes about 90-110 minutes. Once completed, we will start over with stage 1 and complete the cycle over and over again until waking.
The first few stages of sleep are short in duration, usually about 5-15 minutes, and consist of light sleep. During these stages of sleep, body temperature drops and heart rate begins to slow down. As the body enters into stages 3 and 4, sleep begins to get a bit deeper. These are the stages in sleep which blood supply to the tissues increases. This encourages muscle growth and tissue repair.
As the body moves into REM sleep, muscles are relaxed. As the name suggests, brain activity increases during this stage, which causes rapid eye movement. It is also during this stage that dreaming occurs. Our brain begins to store memories of things that happened during the day and makes room for new ones. Old “waste” is removed from the brain and energy is provided to the body which supports daytime performance.
What Can We Do?
Create a bedroom that is ideal for deep, restorative sleep. The bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark. Make sure pillows and blankets are comfortable too. If the bedroom is too hot or too loud, for example, we may find ourselves waking up before we reach REM sleep.
Take diet into account as well. Alcohol can disrupt REM sleep. Although it may help us fall asleep faster, it will cause problems later on. As our body metabolizes alcohol, it interferes with our sleep cycle, shortening the duration of REM sleep. Thus, we may wake up feeling groggy after a night of drinking and sleeping a good amount. This is why it is a good idea to avoid alcohol at least 6 hours prior to bedtime. The same goes for caffeine.