Guide to Different Stages of Sleep

Sleep is an integral part of our daily functioning. Without enough of it we suffer from mental illness, physical illness, and the inability to concentrate. Sometimes even if you think you got enough sleep, you might not have hit the right stages to help you get that “true sleep” that your body needs. There are five stages that you go through each night; sometimes more often than others, depending on the way your brain operates each night.


Stage 1 – Entering Dreamland


The first stage is a dreamy state, but not one that you will remember most of the time. You can compare it to the feelings you get when you are daydreaming; you are in a restful state but are not truly sleeping. Your mind may begin to have hypnogogic hallucinations, which are dreamy feelings that you experience and feel as if they are really happening (for example, the phone ringing). After around 10 minutes, your mind enters the second half of this phase, called Theta, which is a period halfway between sleeping and awake. It is typically very easy to wake up when you are in this first stage of sleep.


Stage 2 – Getting Colder


The second stage is when your body begins to slow down and enter sleep. Your temperature and heart rate will start to decrease as you start to wind down. This stage does not happen quickly and your body temperature depends on the how hot or cold the room is at night; what you are wearing; and the amount of bedding you have on you. Typically, this stage lasts for about 20 minutes.


Stage 3- Delta Waves


The third stage is the first step in the process of entering deep sleep. The sleep waves experienced during this stage are called Delta Waves. It is usually harder to wake you up when you enter this third stage. If you did wake up by being suddenly woken by someone, you would experience a bit of grogginess or disorientation.


Stage 4 – Getting Deeper


Stage 4 is when you experience deep sleep – the type you probably long for every night. The unfortunate news is this phase only lasts for approximately 30 minutes. During this phase is usually when things like bedwetting or sleepwalking happen.


Stage 5 – REM the Final Stage


If you felt like you were in dreamland all night, you probably spent a long time in Stage 5, the REM stage. During this sleep, your respiration increases and your brain activity is maximized. Counter-intuitively, even though your brain and respiration are very active during this time, the rest of your body is very relaxed. Your muscles are so relaxed, in fact that it is almost a paralyzed feeling. Your brain, however, is very active and is why dreams occur while the rest of your body is unable to move, for the most part. The only muscles that do move are your involuntary muscles, such as your heart or stomach. If you have ever had a nightmare where you felt like you were trapped or could not escape, it is likely because of the paralyzed feelings your muscles get during this phase of sleep.


You may experience each of these phases more than once per night and you might not always experience REM sleep; some people go from Stage 4 to Stage 2 for a while before hitting REM. The average person takes an hour and a half to get to REM sleep if they are going to get there. This is why it is very important to try to rest for many hours per night, rather than just for short bursts because your body never has a chance to hit the REM phase if you do not give it a chance. Sometimes the first or second time through the cycle your body does not hit that last phase, which is the most restful and rejuvenating phase for your mind and body. Healthy people that sleep well, however, will experience REM sleep for up to an hour at a time.