It's Amazing What Your Body Goes Through Every Time You Fall Asleep
January 12, 2015
Have you ever wondered what happens at the exact moment you fall asleep?
The truth is, you don't actually fall asleep all at once. It's more of a well-defined process that everyone makes their way through in their own time. I'll attempt to explain it as simple as possible.
You start off moving into what's called Stage 1, from being completely awake.
When you first lay down to go to sleep, you pass from your awake state to what's called Alpha state. You've daydreamed before, right? That's basically Alpha state. You're still mostly conscious, but you start to see some little bouts of color behind your eyes (hypnogogic hallucinations) and you start to feel more relaxed.
After Alpha, you enter Theta state. Theta state is when you could technically be considered asleep. This is when you move completely into sleep paralysis (have you felt like you were falling then woken up with a start? that's sleep paralysis setting in and you not being completely unaware when it happened). You're still sleeping relatively lightly, but if you can get through this stage you move into deeper sleep.
Your brain starts to produce short periods of rapid brain waves that are called Sleep Spindles. This is the precursor to what comes next in sleep, deep sleep. Your body temperature begins to drop and your heart rate slows down, settling you in for the night.
When you enter stage 3, really slow brain waves called Delta waves start happening. This is the true transition between light and deep sleep.
Stage four is commonly referred to as Delta Sleep because of the brain waves associated with it. It's a deep sleep that lasts for about thirty minutes. You are the technically the most asleep in this stage.
Stage 5, or REM sleep.
Here's where it gets interesting. This is the stage of sleep unlike all the others.
REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, your eyes literally start moving rapidly behind your eyelids. Your breathing rate increases, and your brain waves shoot up to almost as active as if you were awake. Your voluntary muscles become completely paralyzed, and you start dreaming. REM is also where most of the body's repairs happen. REM sleep is what makes you feel rested when you wake up, and where the body actually rests and restores itself (which is why you usually don't feel rested after a night of drinking alcohol or smoking pot, they both inhibit REM sleep).
These stages come in cycles. It takes roughly 90 minutes for you to go from awake into REM. The first cycle typically has a short REM period, but subsequent cycles increase the duration of REM.
When we actually fall asleep, we go from stage 1 into 2, then 3, then 4, but here's where something curious happens. We then go from 4 to 3, then 3 to 2, then into REM. After REM, we usually return to stage 2, then go back to 3, 4, then 3, 2, REM. We have as many cycles as we stay asleep for, when we wake up, feeling refreshed and ready or the day.
It's helpful to set alarms to multiples of 90 minutes to prevent that (sleep 6 hours but not 5.5 or 6.5 for example) When taking naps do it for 20 minutes only (to never leave light sleep) or for 1.5 hours to get one full cycle. Nice trick for preventing phasing into deep sleep: Hold your key ring or something like that in your hands above free ground. As soon as you start to relax the hand the noise of the keys impacting the floor will wake you up again.
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