Many years ago, I submersed myself in dream interpretation. Our built-in psychologist is fascinating to me, and I wanted to help others discover what their dreams meant. Now, I use dream interpreting (in a very simple form) to scan my week, and my kids' week, to see if we need to work out some stress bugs or adjust our means of communication with one another. One of the most interesting things I learned when learning about dreams, was sleep cycles.
More than the need to get a specific number of hours (for you, your spouse, or your children) is to find your sleep pattern. I've linked my lack of sleep to sickness, eating poorly throughout the day, D-MER, arguing with my family, and more. With nutrition being so important, getting the sleep to get the motivation to be healthy is a priority.
There is a certain cycle that each individual goes through each night while sleeping. This cycle determines how rested you feel when you wake, and also determines what types of dreams you have and remember. As you understand your own personal sleep cycle, you can learn how to sleep better at night (and remember your dreams more if you're looking for a better definition of what is going on with your life).
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your life. This does not mean that you need to sleep as much as possible, it just means that you need to determine the best situation for you to sleep so that your body is rested, and you are healthier all around. You spend about a third of your life asleep. In a typical night, you pass through four distinct phases of sleep. These are distinguished by the frequency of brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tension.
The Sleep Cycles
- Phase I - The first stage of sleep is the drowsiness feeling. This is when your eyes start to drift and you have trouble staying awake. Yawning occurs more, and your body feels very tired. As you close your eyes to sleep and begin to drift, your brain shifts from beta, your normal waking consciousness, to alpha, when brain waves fluctuate between eight and twelve cycles per second. It takes the average human approximately 7 minutes to fall asleep (or drift into Phase II).
- Phase II - The brain wave patterns are now theta waves resulting in rapid bursts of brain activity. Your heart and pulse rates, blood pressure, and body temperature drop slightly. Your muscles begin to relax and you experience the drifting sensation. The mind starts to go crazy at this point, and you often have various images running through. These are often events that happened throughout the day, but can also be very hypnotic and psychedelic.
- Phase III - In this phase, you will start experiencing a deeper drifting sensation. This is often a very relaxed sleeping state, but through research, it has been determined if sleepers are awoken at this point they will argue that they were simply relaxed and thinking, rather than sleeping.
- Phase IV - This stage can begin almost 45 minutes after the sleep cycle begins. This phase is the deepest stage of sleep recognized by REM, but brain activity is almost exactly the same in this stage as it is in waking life. REM is distinguished by Rapid Eye Movement, in which those watching sleepers can actually see them dreaming as their eyes move back and forth. It is often when people may sleepwalk and when you will have the most vivid dreams. Those awakened during this stage have a very hard time fully awakening and usually want to go back to sleep, but will remember their dreams more easily if awoken at this stage.
The sleep phases cycle through often three or four times before a person awakes. A normal sleep cycle consists of a pattern like the following:
Phase I, Phase II, Phase III, Phase IV, Phase III, Phase IV, Phase III, Phase IV, Phase III, Phase II, Waking
The waking stage occurs when a sleeper has received their fully needed amount of sleep during the night in which events from Phase I are reversed and the sleeper's brain activity changes from alpha back to the normal waking beta waves.
Documenting Sleep Patterns
It is good to document your sleeping habits in order to determine your sleep cycle. By documenting your sleep habits, you can more easily determine the amount of hours you need each night for you to receive your full sleep cycle. Dreams make up about 20% of our sleeping life. And, while not a large percentage, it occurs sporadically throughout the cycle. This cycle can be disturbed as well, which means not only will you not sleep well, but your dreaming time will be cut short also. Over the course of a few weeks, write down what time you went to bed and what time you woke up and then determining the total amount of sleep that night (plus any comments pertaining to what you ate, your activity before bed, and how you felt when you woke up), to determine your pattern.
On average, a sleep cycle will last around 90 minutes. This means if you plan to sleep in multiples of 90 (or whatever your time frame is), then you may be able to get a few hours of a sleep, or extra sleep, (or a great afternoon nap) with timing your bed and waking hours to that frame. Furthermore, using circadian rhythms of seasonal daylight and weather changes rather than artificial light, heat, and cooling, can be beneficial to melatonin production, among other hormonal factors, and creating overall better sleep. Not to mention, simply listening to your body.
How do you use your knowledge of sleep patterns? Did you stop using an alarm? Do you schedule your children's bedtimes and naps around their cycles? What about an afternoon nap?