It’s not unusual to wake up feeling groggy or downright disoriented. Sometimes when we wake up, it takes us a few seconds to get our bearings as we struggle to remember what time of the day it is or in fact which day it is. It can be quite a scary experience. And waking up day after day feeling exhausted and befuddled will affect your productivity and creativity. This is why you need to understand your sleep cycle. What is a normal sleep cycle and how can you utilize it to wake up refreshed and energized? Read on to know all about it.
What is a normal sleep cycle?
To understand what is a normal sleep cycle, we need to first talk about the circadian rhythm or the body clock- the overarching regulator of all the facets of your body such as your hormone production, heart rate, brain chemistry, blood pressure, oxygen intake, metabolism and body temperature. And one important function of the circadian rhythm is deciding the hours of wakefulness and sleep.
Your body clock makes everything peak around noon to 3 PM in the afternoon. Your metabolism rate, body temperature, wakefulness hormones and all other factors are in their prime in this time frame. After this, they begin to decline as your body clock starts to slow down or wind up to prepare you for sleep. Your body starts producing more sleep hormones that peak between 8 PM and 12 PM, which is why this is the best time to go to bed.
Once you are asleep, your sleep cycle is activated which is being controlled by your circadian rhythm, and the different sleep stages come into play.
What are the different sleep stages?
Stage 1: You have just begun to drift off to sleep
Stage 2: Your sleep is deepening, but it is still light
Stage 3: You are heading towards deep sleep
Stage 4: This is the stage of deep sleep. Your body temperature, heart rate, breathing and brain waves are at their lowest. It is very difficult to wake a person up during this stage.
All 4 of these stages are Non-Rapid Eye Movement Stages, which means you do not dream during these stages.
Stage 5: This is the Rapid Eye Movement stage when your brain activity spikes and you have vivid dreams. If you wake up during this stage, you will remember your dreams.
All 5 stages play out in a span of 90 minutes which is the duration of one sleep cycle. A normal sleep cycle has 5 repeats, which is why all doctors will tell you to sleep at least 7.5 hours a night.
When should you wake up?
But when is the best time to wake up? Research has shown that if you wake up during REM sleep, you might have a case of sleep inertia- that feeling of dullness and exhaustion. That is because melatonin (sleep hormone) levels are high during this stage.
That leaves us with the 4 other stages. As we already said, it is a bad idea to interrupt your deep sleep because this is when your body mends itself and recovers. This is one stage of sleep you cannot compromise on. And even if your alarm clock wakes you up in the middle of a deep sleep, your circadian rhythm will be unhappy because it was unable to complete its tasks. This too will induce a feeling of lethargy.
It is best to wake up when one cycle ends or in the transition period (stage 1 or even stage 2). Your body doesn’t like to wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle. It would rather get fewer cycles of sleep than wake up midway. So you have to time your sleep accurately so that you wake up at the end of one sleep cycle. Decide how many hours of sleep you need or when you plan on waking up and go to bed accordingly. Give yourself at least 4 cycles of sleep for the sake of your health. That translates to 6 hours of sleep (90 minutes*4). So if you need to wake up at 6 in the morning, then do not go to bed after 12 midnight. For waking up at 4 in the morning, go to bed at 10 PM. If you want more than 6 hours of sleep, then you will need 7.5 hours and nothing less than that or you would wake up mid-cycle.
And remember, beyond 12 midnight, your sleep hormone production declines as well, so go to bed by then.
Sleep is tantamount to good health, and that is why it is important to understand and listen to your sleep cycle.