Good sleep is something of a status symbol today. But what does healthy sleep actually look like? Let’s first consider why we need to go through all five sleep phases.
While we sleep, we gather our mental and physical strength. We relax, recuperate and regenerate. Sleep is elementary for our health, our performance and our energy balance. If we don’t get enough, we’ll feel the discomfort, sooner or later.
According to sleep researchers, healthy sleep includes five sleep stages, each of which involves different activity in our brain. Together, the five stages make up a sleep cycle of about 90 minutes, which are repeated four to five times per night. They determine how well we sleep – and how refreshed we feel when we wake up the next day.
The five sleep stages at a glance
001 The falling asleep phase
This is when tiredness turns into sleep. For some people, the first phase lasts a few minutes, for others much longer. When the body twitches involuntarily, this is a sign that our muscles are also relaxing.
002 The light sleep phase
This phase makes up about half a cycle. The body continues to settle down: our pulse slows, our breathing deepens and relaxes. We also begin to process what we have experienced during the day.
003 & 004 Deep sleep phase
The deep sleep phase consists of the third and fourth phases. Now we are in the deepest physical relaxation, which is why deep sleep is most valuable, both physically and psychologically – even if it lasts only 10-20 minutes per cycle.
However, it can happen that we fall into deep sleep only for a short time, or not at all. This can either be because the night was too short, or because stress and worries kept us from a restful deep sleep. The consequence? We feel unrested. What helps is a conscious evening routine to shut down the nervous system: such as a breathing meditation, a restorative bath, or reading before bed.
005 REM sleep
REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the phase in which we dream. Psychologists believe that dreams are a key to the subconscious mind. During sleep, our brain deals with fear and problems, it reflects on experiences, and processes information. After the REM phase, the cycle starts all over again with the light sleep phase.
Get to know your sleep requirements: how much do I need?
Our sleep requirements are individual – how much sleep we need is influenced by our genes, and other factors such as our environment. In general, doctors and scientists recommend that the body should rest for seven to eight hours per night so that sleep cycles can be repeated several times.
To find out how much sleep you need, test yourself: take note of how many hours of sleep leave you feeling really well rested and full of energy throughout the day.
Why do I sometimes feel totally unrested, despite getting enough sleep?
It’s possible to feel tired and drained even when we’ve had enough sleep. Reasons for this can include stress, worries or a poor sense of wellbeing – making it harder for us to fall asleep and stay asleep. This throws the sleep phases out of balance, which in turn determine our sleep quality: the more regular and undisturbed the sleep phases, the more rested and fit we feel in the morning, and vice versa.
In order to find peace in the evenings, even during hectic times, we can direct our attention to positive thoughts after our usual routine and shortly before going to bed. Guided evening meditation can be helpful for this. Another option is journaling, for example. Keep a notebook beside your bed and answer this question: what three things am I especially grateful for today? It triggers a warm feeling inside us, which increases the likelihood of a restful and peaceful night.
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