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REM vs Deep Sleep: Understand your sleep cycle



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Josh Miller / CNET

Now more than ever, we can quantify exactly how good or bad our sleep patterns are. Intelligent beds sleep trackers and wearables of all kinds help us to track our sleep .

Every morning you can check your heart rate, respiratory rate, and sleep charts with information about how much light, deep, and REM sleep you had the night before. However, all this data only makes sense if you know what you are aiming for and what it all means.

How to decode your sleep cycles so that you can make the most of your closed eye.

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What are sleep cycles?

People sleep in cycles. The best known is REM, which stands for fast eye movements because your eyes move quickly during this sleep phase. In general, scientists and researchers divide the cycles into two broad categories: non-REM and REM sleep . I will divide non-REM sleep into two other categories that are often used by sleep trackers.

Light sleep

Light sleep is the beginning of your sleep cycle and the way your body relaxes. Breathing, heart rate and muscle changes prepare your body for deeper sleep.

Light sleep is divided into levels 1 and 2. The first stage is simply the transition from waking to sleep and accounts for less than 3 percent of your nightly sleep cycles.

In stage 2, light sleep begins to work. When you are fully asleep, your brain activity slows down but contains electrical activity spurts. Neuroscientific studies suggest that these electrical activity spurts are a critical part of your brain's process of transferring information from short to long-term memory. For this reason, many scientists agree that sleeping after learning or learning new material helps you to store information faster.

Most people spend more time in stage 2 during long periods of sleep than in any other stage, and that's a good thing because it's such an important part of brain health and emotional processing.

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Deep sleep

Deep sleep is often confused with REM sleep, but the two are actually very different. Deep sleep is the part of your sleep cycle in which your body recovers from the day. Your body secretes growth hormones, which are associated with the repair and reconstruction of cells.

When you get enough deep sleep, you wake up refreshed. Without enough you will feel tired even if you have a full night of rest.

You typically see deep sleep on your sleep tracking devices in the first half of your night. It happens in relatively long segments as your heartbeat and breathing slow to the lowest levels.

This is also the sleep phase when it is most difficult to wake you up. Deep sleep is just as important, if not more important than REM sleep, when it comes to physical rest. So keep an eye on this phase as you track your sleep patterns.

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The BeautyRest Sleeptracker draws REM, light, deep and awake Segments.


Screenshot from Molly Price / CNET

REM sleep

Perhaps the most famous of the sleep cycles, REM sleep, is interesting and almost the stuff of science fiction. Most people experience REM sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep.

REM sleep goes deeper into the restoration of the brain, dreams and processes memories and emotions. This is the sleep phase in which your eyes move quickly. If you've ever caught your dog or cat in a REM stage, you'll see the flying eyes.

Your brain waves in REM sleep are closer to waking than deep sleep, and your breathing becomes irregular and accelerates. Blood pressure and heart rate also rise almost awake during REM sleep.

It is not surprising that with so much vigilance most of your dreams occur at this stage.

Entertaining fact: During REM sleep, your arm and leg muscles are temporarily paralyzed by two chemicals in your brain that prevent you from physically realizing your dreams and slapping your partner in the face instead of this alien villain.

Why It Matters

Sure, you could do the same as hundreds of generations of people before us and just fall asleep without a sleep tracker and trust Mother Nature. In fact, I encourage you to do this, especially when large amounts of data about your body are not calming your mind.

However, if you are interested in sleep data, you can make informed decisions about your bedroom environment or schedule by understanding and correlating how you feel and how well you go through the sleep phases. Learn how to track your sleep schedule here. .

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified healthcare provider if you have any questions about an illness or health goals.


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