Your brain is almost as active when you’re asleep as when you’re awake, so it’s best to think of sleep as an active state. Your body is resting, sure, but it’s also working to recuperate and rejuvenate itself. While this happens you pass through 2 basic stages of sleep: rapid-eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). There are also 4 different stages of sleep within the NREM stage.
As you sleep, you pass from stage to stage continuously. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes.
NREM begins first when you fall asleep. You spend about 75% of your total sleep time in NREM sleep. The 4 stages of NREM work like this:
Stage 1: You are lightly asleep and can easily be awakened—this stage usually lasts for about 5-10 minutes.
Stage 2: You’re still lightly asleep and can easily be woken up, but now your heart beats more slowly and your body temperature drops a bit as your body prepares to go into deeper sleep.
Stage 3: You are deeply asleep and hard to wake.
Stage 4: An even deeper state of sleep than Stage 3.
While you are in stages 3 and 4, your body is in peak repair mode. This is when you repair and rebuild all parts of your body, including your muscles and your immune system. Because of this, stages 3 and 4 are often referred to as restorative sleep.
After you’ve been through a full cycle of NREM sleep, you move into a period of REM sleep. During REM sleep you have the rapid eye movements behind closed lids that are characteristic of this stage. You have dreams during REM sleep.
Your first REM stage usually lasts only about 10 minutes. With each additional sleep cycle, the REM stage gets longer; your last REM stage could last up to an hour. That’s why you’re more likely to remember dreams in the morning.
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