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The 4 Stages of Sleep and their Importance as We Age

Sleep is a part of our entire lives and is often taken for granted until sleep issues occur. All adults need the same amount of sleep (7-9 hours/night). However, as we age, falling asleep and/or staying asleep can become a nightly battle. Knowing what is actually occurring during sleep makes it even more important to address sleep issues.

The basics of sleep are:

  • As you sleep, you cycle through two phases of sleep: Non-REM Sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep

  • In total, there are 4 stages in each cycle. These usually restart every 80-100 minutes, for a total of 4-6 cycles each night.

  • There are 3 stages of non-REM sleep: Stage 1 – The transition from wakefulness and sleep – usually lasting 1-7 minutes Stage 2 – In this stage, you are asleep – usually lasting 10-25 minutes Stage 3- Called deep or slow-wave sleep – usually lasting 20-40 minutes REM Sleep – usually lasting 10-60 minutes.

  • During this phase, your eyes twitch and your brain is active. In fact, during REM sleep brain activity is similar to its activity during waking hours. Dreams usually occur during REM sleep, and last just a few seconds to 20-30 minutes. Muscles normally become limp to prevent acting out your dreams.

  • Why you often do not remember your dreams: Short-term memory areas are active during REM sleep and only stay for about 30 seconds. Usually, you have to wake up from REM sleep to recall a dream. If you pass from REM to the next sleep stage without rousing, the dream will never enter long-term memory.

What can be done if sleep has become an issue:

  • Avoiding daytime napping; limit caffeine, alcohol and tobacco

  • Only going to bed when tired

  • Waking at the same time each morning

  • Eliminating stimuli such as lights and TV

Consistent, good sleep is important for concentration and memory formation, cell and immune system repair and an overall sense of well-being and energy level. Over-the-counter sleep aides may cause serious issues as we age. Instead, discussing sleep issues with your physician is recommended. They will be able to determine what sleep aides, if needed, will be safe and effective for you. A sleep study may be indicated to determine the cause of your sleep issues.

Just accepting poor sleep as a natural effect of aging, can prevent you from getting the answers and treatment needed. This attitude may also cause unaddressed, potentially very serious health issues, such as Sleep Apnea, from being addressed.





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