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The 5 Sleep Phases: How They Affect Our Sleep

The 5 Sleep Phases: How They Affect Our Sleep 1

I really do not need to describe the importance of sleep. Sleep can have a large impact on our health. It can help us relieve stress. Sleep can also help you build up your energy. There are several different phases or stages of sleep.

The Circadian Rhythm that is in all of us determines the hormone release, digestion, temperatures, and other body functions while we sleep. This is the subconsciousness that keeps us alive while sleeping. You are not aware that your brain is actively keeping your body running. This rhythm acts as our body’s natural internal clock.

From “The term circadian comes from the Latin circa, meaning “around” (or “approximately”), and diēm, meaning “day”. The formal study of biological temporal rhythms, such as daily, tidal, weekly, seasonal, and annual rhythms, is called chronobiology. Processes with 24-hour oscillations are more generally called diurnal rhythms; strictly speaking, they should not be called circadian rhythms unless their endogenous nature is confirmed.[2]”

Like I said there are many benefits of this circadian rhythm and getting a good night’s sleep is just one of them. You will wake with a lot more energy. If you have ever gone without sleep for extended periods of time, you know how drained you can feel. While asleep our body is processing vitamins and minerals, these allow our cells to function. Sleep also has a strong effect on memory. During rest, our body will process all of the days’ information and organize it so that you can retrieve it easier later on. On top of that, another important reason for sleep is to keep us calmed down and then remove all of the stress.

While sleeping our body goes through several different phases. These phases or steps happen in order and we go through the cycle over and over each time we sleep. If our sleep gets interrupted or we do not get to complete the cycle then it could cause a rough awakening. This interruption could be an indicator of a bad morning. I do not think this is the only case, as some people are just not morning people, whether they had a good full sleep or not.

The circadian rhythm is very strong, it regulates a large part of our body’s. That doesn’t mean that you cannot change it yourself. You want to force yourself to not work before bed. By reducing light use you will sleep better. This as well as getting into bed earlier. You also should not use any screens before bed. The light from the screens will make it so you stay awake, instead of passing into a sleep state.

What is a sleep phase disorder? It is caused by the circadian rhythm getting out of sync with your normal schedule. It may take a while for your internal clock to adjust itself. In the meantime, you may feel sleepy during the day, and still unable to sleep when you go to bed at night. Your clock will reset based off of environmental cues such as temperature and daylight. It isn’t only the environment but also our behaviors that can affect our circadian rhythm.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is diagnosed as anyone who has a delayed sleeping time of 2 or more hours. I often find myself working late into the night, usually getting work done for the next day. This causes my sleep to be delayed each night. I do not think that I have an issue with sleeping delay, as it is mostly my choice. I should be better about winding down at the end of the day and putting myself to sleep. I will talk about winding down later in the article.

The DSPS diagnosis is a very serious thing to worry about. Sleep plays such an important part of resetting our body each night. If we delay it and wake up at the same time each day, that means we have less and fewer hours actually asleep. You may feel cranky in the morning when you do not get your full nights rest, you are effectively a night-owl, not a morning person. Not getting all of your sleep may mean that you are not able to wake up at the correct time, or it may be a struggle to even get out of bed even if you are awake. Many will confuse this with insomnia but that is a whole other issue.

There is also the Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPS). This is different from the DSPS in that you are not delayed, but your sleep is interrupted prematurely. Another source describes ASPS as being where your circadian rhythm as you going to be earlier than normal. The person will start to feel overly tired towards the end of the day. It may not be associated with going to be early as it is associated with not being able to stay awake during the day.

As the latter stages of sleep, and as you reach REM, the phases get longer and longer. You will be able to dream during these phases. The Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and increased brain and respiratory activity allow you to dream.

Note: The use of syndrome or disorder are interchangeable in the situation of ASPS and ASPD, and DSPS and DSPD. You should understand these as the same. I decided to use the syndrome (PS) variant in this article.

Insomnia can be a hard one to figure out. If you have insomnia that means it is usually related to a medical condition or maybe a mental health problem. If you feel that these are associated with what you are experiencing then you should not delay speaking with your doctor. They will have therapies to help you with insomnia. They will most likely put you on some type of prescription drug to try and get you to fall asleep. This shouldn’t be confused with your internal clock getting out of whack, as that can usually be fixed by changing your behaviors.

Narcolepsy is a serious sleeping disorder that is not too common but can be very devastating. It can be dangerous when driving. You would want to speak with your doctor about driving. The afflicted will have problems with staying awake, it can also lead to paralysis of the muscles. Some even mention hallucinations. Unfortunately, at this time, narcolepsy cannot be cured.

For narcoleptics, their hypothalamus is damaged. The hypothalamus controls your pituitary glands that in turn control all movements of your body, and the nervous system. Being damaged limits how much hypocretin is produced. Hypocretin affects our body’s wakefulness, among other things.

The signs of narcolepsy are:

  • Sleepiness
  • Loss of Muscle Tone
  • Paralysis of the Muscles
  • Depression
  • Lack of Energy
  • Mental ‘Fogginess’
  • Possible Hallucinations


The 5 Sleep Phases: How They Affect Our Sleep 2

There are two types of sleep, the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-rapid eye movement (NREM). You will go through 5 stages, 1, 2, 3, 4, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM), phases can happen in an average of 10 minutes each. This will go through the list as a cycle and start over again. This cycles over and over each night, roughly in 60 to 90-minute cycles, but sometimes up to a couple hours in a fully resting adult. You can experience 5 or more actual REM cycles per night.

REM Phase

The first phase or the last depending on how you look at it, the cycle keeps repeating. This is the step that I want to achieve. We will be well into our dreams by now. Our minds will be actively working on sorting our memories and processing everything that happened in the previous day.

Phase 1

Alpha and Theta, this is a transitional light sleep, you will drift in and out. You can be easily awoken in this phase. The drifting in and out is a feeling of floating in and out of sleep. You may notice your muscles jerking, this can be known as hypnic myoclonia (restless leg syndrome?). The sensation could feel like you are falling, this is only minded tricks though. You may feel like you are in a semi-dream state, where your dreams and thoughts are closely connected. This can also be like daydreaming during the day, you are not quite there, almost asleep. The alpha state is a meditative state. You may notice children are in this alpha dreamy state prior to bedtime, their bodies are automatically preparing them for slumber. This is an almost hallucinogenic state. Theta is what is described as the light period before falling asleep, it only lasts for a short time. The theta stage usually lasts up to 10 minutes.

Phase 2

This stage you will have a lowered heart rate. Your body temperature lowers as well, bringing you closer to deep sleep. We will have short periods of rapid brain activity in this phase. Sometimes it is easy to get distracted by the environment and wake up in this stage. Keep your environment free of blue light and any sounds. Some people like white noise, that is a personal preference.

Phase 3

Delta Brain Waves will be produced in this phase. These are really slow waves, but there are often bursts of other brain activity. Our minds are preparing us for a deeper sleep. We could start dreaming by this point but not as likely as the next phases.

Phase 4

This is the final phase before we approach the rapid eye movement again. We will be in a full rest state, with minimal distraction from outside sources. You could spend up to two hours in this phase before the cycle starts over.

I would argue that all of the phases are important. The repeating REM phase seems the most likely one to represent what we know as sleep. We are basically chasing this phase the whole night. It is also the complete phase where if we were prematurely awoken, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

The duration and timing of the phase changes can vary greatly. The duration could be as little as 10 minutes in the beginning and up to a couple hours in the later phases. I feel that the longer the phase the more at rest you are. Fewer distractions, especially environmental will extend each of these stages resulting in better rest.

So is there a difference in children as compared to adults? Children need more sleep than adults do. Their body’s working overtime as they grow. They need the extra energy for this growth as well. Plus sleeping longer as adults can actually be detrimental to our health. The proper 8-hour sleep schedule would be the perfect goal to reach for, no more, no less.


Energy – This is the primary need for sleep. We are able to let our body’s rest and process. It is possible to get too much sleep and feel like you don’t have energy. This is where the REM cycle comes in, if it is interrupted at the wrong time it can have negative effects.

Reduced Depression – Having insomnia or other sleeping disorders can be frustrating. This lake of energy can make us become depressed. The delayed sleep phase syndrome is mostly related to depression because you are laying there thinking without shutting down and sleeping.

Anxiety – Sometimes stress can get the better of us. If I have a particularly stressful day at work I will just want to go straight to bed. I think this is only natural to want to go sleep it off.

Etiology – The act of sleeping helps our bodies with fighting off disease. If you lack sleep then you are at a higher risk of infection and disease. This reason right here is enough to convince me.


The sun and artificial lighting do not allow for our body’s to go into a restful state. Traditionally we are regulated by the day and night cycles. This isn’t always the case with our modern society though. There are many places that never go dark, they have so much light pollution that it is hard for our body to know when to sleep. While searching for your solution to sleep it may be difficult because of the environment. Get light blocking curtains for your bedroom, you want complete darkness.

Blue color lights are more important to avoid than a warm tone light. The blue light prevents us from releasing our own melatonin. The shorter wavelength blue light changes the levels of melatonin introduced because the different wavelengths affect us differently. The blue light effect can even have repercussions in the morning.

No screens prior to bed. This is the most common way that blue light affects you at night. We are glued to our smartphones and usually browse them before bed. Sometimes we are on our phones in bed. This is a no-no. If you must do this, then make sure you have an app that adjusts the coloration of the screen to be warmer, orange instead of cold blue.

Sleep phase alarm clock apps on your smartphone can attempt to wake you during a good sleep phase. Preferably you will be awoken at the end of a cycle rather than the beginning or in the middle. I haven’t had much success with these myself, but they could be more promising if we could get some type of Bluetooth device that sends information from the surface of your skin. Get on that one manufacturers 😜.

One sure way to make me tired is exercising. My wife loves to pull a sports session at the end of the day. She is the one to motivate me to exercise. I find though that a late night workout can put me right in the mood for sleep. I think that is interesting because in my opinion exercising would make us more awake and alert. The opposite is actually true it seems.

Another method is a warm shower before bed. This is usually what I do after my workout anyways, and it even further puts me into a sleepy state. It is just like my baby, when she is fighting sleep, we will go and put her in the bath. This makes her fall right asleep in the bath water. Then I just pull her out and put her straight to bed, no more fussing. This goes the same for me, no more fussing after a warm shower, the bed feels like the next best thing.


This is almost a mystery supplement. It is a naturally occurring process in our body that helps regulate our wakefulness. The options available over the counter are not approved by the FDA and is there isn’t a lot of scientific research done on it. We are not exactly sure how it interacts with our body’s. You will use this as a sleeping aid, you should take it 30 minutes prior to going to sleep. If you have issues with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome then you should plan accordingly and take it at least 2 hours prior to the time you wish to fall asleep. As with anything we take, it is best used in moderation. Melatonin is not proven to be addictive but the feeling it gives could make you want to keep taking it. I myself am very careful with the drugs I put in my body. I do not want to become dependant on anything.

Some possible side effects of melatonin use:

  • Daytime Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Joint Pain
  • Sleepwalking
  • Nightmares

There are artificial melatonin options available. They will go by several names such as Modafinil, Provigil, and Alertec. These are not natural like what is produced in our bodies, but they may help. They are prescription based and you would need to get them recommended by your doctor. I only mention these because some peoples sleepless saga can be frustrating, and they may have tried all other options.

Note: With all medications, it is best that you do not self-medicate. You should always seek the advice of a professional before you start with any regimen.


Sleep phase chronotherapy is a specific therapy for fixing the cyclical schedule or the circadian rhythm. The idea is to move the bedtime later for each day of the therapy. This is supposed to force your circadian rhythm to reset.

A common sleep therapy schedule posted on for chronotherapy is:

  • Day 1: sleep 04:00 to 12:00
  • Day 2: sleep 07:00 to 15:00
  • Day 3: sleep 10:00 to 18:00
  • Day 4: sleep 13:00 to 21:00
  • Day 5: sleep 16:00 to 00:00
  • Day 6: sleep 19:00 to 03:00
  • Day 7 to 13: sleep 22:00 to 06:00
  • Day 14 and thereafter: sleep 23:00 to 07:00

Now the exact therapy procedures can vary. This would be completely up to you and you must know that Chronotherapy is not a guaranteed fix, it has been successful for many but not all. It also requires that you are dedicated. I think if you are struggling with sleep so much that you are dedicated enough to want to fix it. Keeping to the schedule could be very difficult. There may be times where your clock is so out of whack that you may be staying awake for many hours at a time.

Check out this video from ZoneA on YouTube, this is a nice quick video explaining what happens while we sleep. It helps pinpoint exactly what is going on during our slumber.


Sleep is so important, and I hope your journey works out for the better. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with sleep issues again. You need to take this information, research some more, speak with your doctor. Get your family involved too.

You want to get to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This is important, it is the full circle of your sleep phases. Remember to minimize distractions so that you can lengthen each phase as much as possible. You will be in a deeper slumber.

Doing sleep therapy can work wonders. The rigorous schedule is not for everyone though. Not all procedures will be the same. Do your research for each one.

If you at the end of your rope, and nothing is working. The best thing to do is work with your doctor. You need to be on the same page. If you need prescriptions to get to the point where you can do it yourself, then you may just have to. Your doctor will know what’s best.

Now go get some sleep and the best of luck with everything. You can regain your sleep, I know you can.

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