A healthy sleep pattern is essential to our functioning. Sleep deprivation has catastrophic effects on our health, both long- and short-term. In this article Dr. Matt le Roux explores the stages of a healthy sleep pattern, the terrifying effects of sleep deprivation and shares some tips and tricks as to how to better establish a healthy sleep pattern.
This article aims to explore healthy sleep patterns around a full night’s sleep. But how does napping play into this? If you’re curious you can read this article.
What are the stages of a healthy sleep pattern?
Sleep architecture, or the compartmentalisation of sleep by stages, helps us to gain a better understanding of a healthy sleep pattern and how this can be managed and used to our benefit. It was previously accepted that there were 5 stages to make up a healthy sleep pattern. However, in 2007, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) defined the now accepted 4 stages of a healthy sleep pattern.
Each stage of sleep can be identified by distinct differences in brain activity. The four stages are N1, N2, N3 and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). N1, N2, and N3 are classified as non-REM (NREM). During a healthy sleep pattern, you will cycle through these stages multiple times a night. The first sleep cycle is often the shortest, ranging from 70 to 100 minutes, while later cycles tend to fall between 90 and 120 minutes (Patel, 2020).
Let’s take a deeper look at these stages:
Stage 1, or N1, typically lasts between 1 and 5 minutes. This is stage at which you feel yourself dozing off. Your body has not completely relaxed yet and you may experience light twitches. Your brain activity has started to slow down lightly. During this stage you are easy to wake. In a healthy sleep pattern it will not take long to move from this stage into stage 2 (Suni, 2020).
Stage 2, or N2, typically lasts between 10 and 60 minutes. The first time you enter into N2 it may only last 10 to 25 minutes and this will likely increase with each sleep cycle you enter (as mentioned before, you will enter each stage multiple times in a night as part of the sleep cycle).
During this stage of a healthy sleep pattern your brain activity further changes and you experience changes in body function such as a drop in temperature, relaxed muscles, slowed breathing and heart rate, as well as a stop in eye movement. Generally, a person spends about half their sleep time in the N2 sleep stage (Suni, 2020).
Stage 3, or N3 (also known as Delta Sleep, Deep Sleep or Slow-Wave Sleep), typically lasts between 20 and 40 minutes. You will be harder to wake up in this stage of a healthy sleep pattern as your body has further relaxed and bodily changes include a decrease of muscle tone, pulse and breathing rate.
During this stage your body recovers, grows and your immune system is bolstered. There is evidence that suggests that this stage of sleep also contributes to insightful thinking, creativity and memory.
You spend the most time in deep sleep during the first half of the night in a healthy sleep pattern. As you continue sleeping, these stages get shorter, and more time gets spent in REM sleep instead (Suni, 2020).
Stage 4, or REM, typically lasts between 10 and 60 minutes. During this stage of a healthy sleep pattern your brain activity increases, almost to the point of wakefulness, while your body experiences a contradicting temporary paralysis of the muscles. The exception to paralysis of the muscles is your eyes and breathing. Your eyes are moving quickly (hence the name REM) and your breathing remains consistent.
Perhaps the most commonly known fact about the REM stage is that this stage in a healthy sleep pattern is conducive for vivid dreams. This is explained by the increase in brain activity. While dreams are not isolated to the REM stage, they are most common in the REM stage.
This stage of sleep in a healthy sleep pattern is believed to be essential to cognitive functions like memory, learning, and creativity.
Generally, you won’t enter the REM sleep stage until you’ve been asleep for about 90 minutes. During later REM stages in your cycle the length of the stage will increase from a few minutes to about an hour. In total, REM stages make up around 25% of sleep in adults with a healthy sleep pattern (Suni, 2020).
What are the dangers of sleep deprivation?
Disruption of a healthy sleep pattern can have serious long- and short-term consequences. There are many anomalies that can influence your quality and duration of sleep. Its is best to identify these and course correct as soon as possible to avoid the risk of experiencing one or more of the following:
Short-term risks involved in the disruption of a healthy sleep pattern
When you sleep, you relax. That may seem over-simplistic, but the realities of sleep-related distress are dangerous. You may experience impaired cognitive function and decreased mood, which contribute to a lower over-all functioning. This may impact your relationships, work performance, ability to drive with alertness and ability to perform basic tasks. This is linked more to the disruption of sleep than the duration of sleep, so it is of utmost importance to ensure your healthy sleep pattern includes sleep of both of good length and good quality (Medic, 2017).
Decreased over-all health
Your body heals when you’re asleep – in a healthy sleep pattern. A lack of sleep has been linked to increased headaches, abdominal pain and even substance abuse. Your body simply cannot function at optimal performance when it is sleep deprived and has not had sufficient time for restorative functions (Medic, 2017).
Lack of sleep causes immense stress on your brain and impairs its ability to function in your normal environment. You may experience the following symptoms for lack of a healthy sleep pattern (Medic, 2017):
- Emotional distress
- Mood disorders
- Cognitive deficit
- Memory deficit
- Performance deficit
Long-term risks involved in the disruption of a healthy sleep pattern
The long-term affects of sleeplessness are quite alarming. Studies show that adults and adolescents may experience the following long-term cardiovascular issues due to an extended period without a healthy sleep pattern (Medic, 2017):
- Higher cholesterol
- Higher BMI
- Higher systolic BP
- Metabolic issues
Sleep loss affects energy metabolism primarily by impairing insulin sensitivity and increasing food intake. Disrupted sleep has been associated with weight gain and other weight-related issues in both adults and adolescents. A healthy sleep pattern can reduce the risk of obesity and the health risks that come along with obesity (Medic, 2017).
Yes, a healthy sleep pattern may even reduce your risk of cancer!
Sleep deprivation has been shown to accelerate tumour formation and may increase the risk of cancer. Particularly, the exposure to light at night decreases production of melatonin – melatonin plays an important role in DNA and tumour reduction (Medic, 2017).
How do I know if I need a better sleep pattern?
If you experience one or more of the following it may be an indicator that you need to make adjustments to achieve a healthy sleep pattern:
- Having trouble getting up in the morning
- Struggling to focus
- Irritability, depression, or anxiety
- Feeling sleepy during the day or needing to schedule daytime naps
- Sleeping much longer or later on unstructured days
How do I achieve a healthy sleep pattern?
There are 3 components to achieving a healthier sleep pattern. Duration, continuity, and timing.
“When duration of sleep drops below seven hours, and especially when it starts to move toward six and half hours or less, a number of different disorders begin to increase in prevalence,” says Dr. Dinges. “Most experts would agree that there is a kind of sweet spot that most people should aim for, and for the average healthy adult that zone is ideally somewhere between 7 and 7 and a half hours. That is what the consensus evaluations of more than a thousand scientific articles have yielded—the consensus of evaluations conducted by the AASM (American Academy of Sleep Medicine) and Sleep Research Society jointly.” (Dinges DF. Date unknown.)
A healthy sleep pattern includes enough uninterrupted sleep rather than more interrupted sleep. You will feel far more refreshed after uninterrupted sleep. This is because your body has been allowed to cycle through your sleep stages effectively. To ensure you have uninterrupted sleep you can do the following (Fry, 2021):
- Close your bedroom door to reduce noise
- Put up black out curtains to reduce lights
- Remove all electronic devices from your room to reduce blue light
- Switch off unnecessary alarms. Stick to one if possible
If you struggle with sleep interruptions, use a sleep mask, ear plugs or ask your family not to disturb you during sleeping hours
Timing your sleep for a healthy sleep pattern is also important. Your Circadian rhythms, or your body’s internal clock, take cues from the environment about when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake up. Light is the most prevalent factor influencing your Circadian rhythm. Lightness induces wakefulness and dimness induces sleep. It is more difficult to get to sleep, stay asleep and get enough sleep when you do not align your sleep with your Circadian rhythm.
To do this maintain a regular bedtime and wake time. Reducing blue light (the light from electronic devices) an hour before bedtime will help you get to sleep on time. You can adjust your Circadian rhythm by slowly adjusting your bedtime and wake time by small intervals at a time. Plan your day so that your mind engaging activities are performed earliest in the day and not near bedtime. Wake up on your first alarm and try not to snooze as this promotes the beginning of a new sleep stage. When you are able to go to bed and wake up a time that is in tune with your Circadian rhythm you will feel refreshed and awake. You’ll have had a truly good night’s sleep (Czeisler, 2015).
Dr Matt le Roux works with a variety of concerns, ranging from acute, chronic pain and complex injuries to nutritional, lifestyle, and performance enhancements. He is specialised in Sports Chiropractic and therefore can help you address concerns you may have surrounding your sleep pattern. To get in touch, visit https://mattleroux.com/contact-us/
Suni, E. 2020. Stages of Sleep.
Patel, A. 2020. Physiology, Sleep Stages
Medic, G, et al. 2017. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption.
Dinges DF. Date unknown. An overview of sleepiness and accidents.
Czeisler, A. 2015. Duration, timing and quality of sleep are each vital for health, performance and safety.
Fry, A. 2021. What is Healthy Sleep?