Distribution of sleep phases

As we sleep, our body and brain go through cycles of distinct types of activity, predominantly defined by the type of brain waves. Each of them has a specific function, and the specific requirements change over our lifetime (e.g. fetus would predominantly engage in REM sleep, while late teens seem to require more deep sleep), but we need a good mix of all if we want to function optimally.

Light sleep (includes Stage 1 with alpha & theta brain waves at the beginning and end of sleep, and Stage 2 when heart rate and breathing are slowing down) functions as …

Deep sleep (Stages 3 and 4 characterized by slow delta waves) is the time of growth hormone release, tissue repair and regeneration and activation of the immune system. Difficult to wake up from ……

REM sleep is the most curious part of night. Physiological effects are rather scary – our eyes dart rapidly (hence Rapid Eye Movement), our muscles are paralyzed, and even the thermoregulation is shut down. This phase is crucial for memory consolidation, information processing, but also metabolic waste management and tissue repair. It is the time of dreaming, and muscle paralysis prevents us to act on our dreams.

Sleep cycles would on average take about 90 minutes, and typically we would see pattern light sleep, followed by deep sleep, followed by REM sleep. Studies were done with suppressing specific type of sleep for one night, where participants would be deprived of e.g. just REM sleep, but sleep normally otherwise. The fact that the next night their brain would generate more of the type of sleep they were deprived of suggests that all of them are indeed important.

Which sleep phase is the most important? A healthy balance of all of them is non-negotiable for healthy life. Each phase has different functions …

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