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I recently came across a meme: “We’ve been in quarantine so long that I’ve had time to get in shape, get out of shape, and get back in shape.” It gave me a good laugh because I, and many others, can completely relate. When times are unusual, it’s easy to obsess over our physical health or conversely, put it on the backburner. However, if 2020 has taught me one thing, it’s the importance of keeping physical and mental health steady, no matter what else takes a turn (even if that is a global pandemic).

All About the Rem (and Non-REM) Stages of Your Sleep Cycle

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Do you ever think…if I go to bed now, I will only get 6 hours of sleep? That of course, is assuming I don’t wake up in the middle of the night. It’s completely normal to fixate on the amount of sleep we get, but what we sometimes forget is the quality of this sleep is just as important. In order to get true high-quality sleep, one must progress throughout a cycle – known as the sleep cycle – multiple times. The cycle consists of four separate sleep stages which in sum last anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Each stage in the cycle plays a critical role in sleep’s restorative process, allowing you to feel mentally and physically refreshed when you wake. 

Usually, your first time through the cycle is the shortest and each time gets longer throughout your sleep. Not only does your overall cycle length adjust, but the proportion of time spent in each stage. Factors such as sleep disorders, alcohol consumption, age, and recent sleep patterns are key factors in the composition of a sleep cycle. 

Before we get into the four stages, a brief background on “REM”. REM stands for rapid eye movement, which is a helpful indicator of the kind of sleep you are getting. This is when your eyes are moving rapidly in many directions, but they don’t send visual information to the brain. 

Now, onto the four stages. 

  1. Stage 1, your first non-REM stage, is the shift from wakefulness to sleep. During this 1-5 minute stage, you doze off but are easily wakeable. Your body and brain start to slow down; your muscles relax and your eye movements slow. If not disturbed, you move into stage 2. 
  1. Stage 2, another non-REM stage, is a period of light sleep. During this stage, breathing and heart rate slow, and your body experiences a drop in temperature. Your brain waves are generally slow, but marked short bursts of activity which help resist external factors from waking you. The average person spends about half of their sleep in this stage. 
  1. Stage 3 (also non-REM) is the period of deep sleep that allows for body recovery and growth. It restores and improves bodily processes, while simultaneously boosting insight, creativity, and memory at a time when brain activity is reduced. Most of our deep sleep takes place in the first half of the night, and tends to last 20-40 minutes. 
  1. Stage 4, the only REM stage, is characterized by your eyes moving rapidly from side to side behind shut eyelids. Brain activity increases, closely resembling that of when you are awake. Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure rise steadily. The REM stage is where most of your dreaming occurs, and atonia (the temporary paralysis muscles) prevents you from acting on these dreams. However, the muscles that control breathing and your eye muscles (hence the name REM cycle) remain active. Your REM stage becomes longer towards the second half of your night, making up about 25% of an adult’s sleep. 

The complex and lengthy sleep cycle reveals that when it comes to a good night’s rest, some things are out of our control. The good news: a lot is in our control! sleep hygiene, which includes the environment you sleep in and your daily routines that promote consistent sleep, can be adjusted to ensure that both the quantity and quality of sleep you get allows for the best version of you. So many women suffer from sleep problems and it is something we should not ignore. Sleep is crucial to your overall wellness and if you are not sleeping, you have to do something about it.  Hello Again’s vaginal suppositories for sleep can help you get the sleep you need, so you can feel like yourself again.

by Brooke Kennerson

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