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Sleep is a mystery to many. After all, once your head hits the pillow, you wake up unaware of all the work your body has done throughout your night of slumber. While your conscious mind and body are at rest, your brain is hard at work, moving you through each stage of sleep.
The five stages of sleep are critical to your whole health, as each has a specific purpose to refresh and rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit. How well these sleep stages are able to fulfill their functions has a direct influence on the quality of your daytime hours, according to AdventHealth Publishing’s book Rest at Its Best, CREATION Health Life Guide #2. Interruptions throughout your night of sleep can lead to sleep deprivation, and as a result, health complications down the road.
The 5 Sleep Stages
Sleep starts with stage 1, which occurs only once and in the beginning. This stage is considered transitional because it takes you from wakefulness to unconsciousness. During this stage, you become unaware of your surroundings, your body temperature drops, your muscles become relaxed, your eyes move slowly from side to side beneath your eyelids and you may twitch occasionally.
Then, there is a fixed sequence of automatic sleep stages that repeat with a specific pattern throughout the night until you awaken. The cycle is stage 2, 3, 4, 2, and REM (Rapid Eye Movement).
More than half of your sleep time is spent in stage 2 sleep. This stage starts about five minutes after you fall asleep and sends you into a deeper level of unconsciousness. This stage helps you to feel more alert during the day. During this stage, the thalamus rests, and therefore allows your body’s senses to take a good break. This lets the brain rest from the thousands of signals it receives during your waking hours. Other parts of the brain responsible for problem solving, language, planning and social interactions are signaled to rest as well.
Stage 3 and 4
After about 20 to 30 minutes of sleep, your body then transitions into stages 3 and 4. This phase is known as “Slow Wave Sleep”. Body temperature lowers, muscles relax further and blood supply to the brain decreases. Stage 4 sleep is your deepest sleep. Being awoken from this stage leaves you feeling very groggy.
Stages 3 and 4 are critical to your whole health because this is when your body’s tissues and organs get a break from the urgent and physically demanding work that’s driven by the stress hormone cortisol. While your organs rest, your pituitary gland releases human growth hormone to help restore and repair tissues and organs. Cutting this stage of sleep reduces your body’s ability to physically rejuvenate. Additionally, this stage of sleep allows your body to process fats and carbohydrates, as well as clear neural pathways in the brain to make room for new ones. So, cutting your stage 3 and 4 sleep cycles can lead to excess weight gain and even difficulty with learning and memory.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
After a short jog back to stage 2 sleep, your body then moves into the REM cycle. This is when your body begins to subconsciously wake up; your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises and your body starts to prepare for the day ahead. Your mind begins to liven up as well: this is when your dreams takes place. It’s also responsible for organizing and filing new information in your brain’s memory centers. Cutting back on this sleep affects your ability to retain and recall new information. This is also where much of your creativity originates.
What Happens to Sleepless Adults
Each of your sleep stages has an important function on your body’s ability to thrive and function in your hours awake. Lack of adequate rest during any of the sleep stages can have a direct impact on your whole health.
Research has shown that with chronic lack of sleep, the risks for serious health problems increase, including:
- Weight gain
- Hardening of the arteries
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack and stroke
- Colds and flu
- Colon and breast cancer
- Allergies and asthma
- Emotional instability and upset
Getting the Rest Your Body Deserves
The case for getting the sleep your body deserves is a good one. And it all starts with prioritizing sleep as an important part of maintaining your whole health, just like exercise, nutrition and the other CREATION Health pillars. For help with getting a healthy dose of sleep each night, connect with one of our whole health experts by calling 855-303-DOCS.
Learn more about the CREATION Health.