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Health

The Myths About Your Sleep Cycles

Tara Youngblood

02.13.20

The Myths About Your Sleep Cycles

When it comes to sleep—and especially if you’re struggling to sleep—it’s hard to discern what’s fact from fiction in your attempts to consistently get a restorative night’s sleep. Whether you’re struggling enough to see a physician, or merely consulting the Internet, it can be hard to find answers that work specifically for your needs.

So we’ll start off this post by saying that each sleeper is unique. Your needs will always differ from others’. This is based on your age, your DNA, and other factors. That said, we can make a blanket recommendation for improving your “sleep hygiene,” simply because creating healthy habits, and following the schedule set forth by your chronotype, will typically lead to better long-term sleep results.

When it comes to your sleep cycles, there are a lot of myths floating around out there. For that reason, today we’ll play true or false with some of those myths, all for the sake of helping you get on track with our own personal sleep schedule.

Myth: Each night, you experience different stages of sleep.
True, though there are different ways to categorize these sleep stages. Here’s how we break them down:

Bedtime: This is when your sleep switch is triggered, which basically means that your mind and body are ready for bed. 

Deep Sleep Cycle: During deep sleep your heart rate, your breathing, your blood pressure, and your muscle activity slows down dramatically, all for the sake of restoration.

REM Sleep Cycle: In this stage some neurons and areas of the brain are as active as they would be if you were awake, while others remain dormant. This is also when you’d be most likely to have vivid dreams.

Myth: Each night you cycle through those different stages of sleep.
True. Here’s a great explanation of this (and how long a sleep cycle is) from Tuck.com (note that we classify “NREM sleep” as deep sleep:

A sleep cycle is the progression through the various stages of NREM sleep to REM sleep before beginning the progression again with NREM sleep. Typically, a person would begin a sleep cycle every 90-120 minutes resulting in four to five cycles per sleep time, or hours spent asleep.
One does not go straight from deep sleep to REM sleep, however. Rather, a sleep cycle progresses through the stages of non-REM sleep from light to deep sleep, then reverses back from deep sleep to light sleep, ending with time in REM sleep before starting over in light sleep again.

 Myth: Body temperature plays a role in how you sleep.

Absolutely true. Let’s look at those sleep cycle stages as they relate to your core body temperature:

Bedtime: This is actually when your body reaches its highest temperature, which triggers your sleep switch; melatonin is released, and your body is primed for sleep.

Deep Sleep Cycle: Your core body temperature will drop to its lowest point during the deep sleep stage.

REM Sleep Cycle: During this cycle, you’re rising out of that “dip” as your core body temperature warms up and moves toward wakefulness.

In other words, temperature plays a significant role in your sleep.

Myth: Knowing about sleep cycles and stages will help you sleep better.
False. Having an understanding of the concepts certainly won’t hurt. However, the trick is finding the right “recipe” to maximize those three stages. That’s really where temperature-regulating sleep systems can play an integral role if you’re adhering to the “rules” of your chronotype. By timing your temperature to coincide with the drop and rise of your temperature during deep and REM sleep, you can take the critical first step toward maximizing your time spent horizontal each night.

Myth: You need to get eight hours of sleep every night.
False. While seven to nine hours is the highly prescribed amount of time to sleep each night, think of it as a “quality over quantity” situation. You could be in bed for eight hours, but never fully hit your deep sleep stage, which will leave you feeling tired. I can also speak from personal experience on this one; I used to stay in bed for nine hours a night, but I still woke up exhausted. However, once I timed my stages to coincide with my core body temperature, I started sleeping less—only six hours on some nights—and felt completely rejuvenated.

Myth: Tracking your sleep will definitely improve it. 
False(ish). Tracking your sleep shows a desire to understand your sleep stages and cycles, which is a plus. But unless you have a specific plan or product to improve your sleep, all that tracking will be fruitless. In many ways, we need to learn to trust our bodies again. If we feel great we’re probably sleeping well, and if we feel lousy we probably aren’t. And no app or technology can completely change that on its own.

In many ways, sleeping is an ongoing effort, especially when you consider how much our needs change over time. For example, at age 20, most people get two hours of deep sleep a night, while at age 80 that drops to seven minutes or less. That’s just the way it is. Even removing age from the equation, other factors like medications or alcohol can disrupt a normal sleep cycle, and impact how deep sleep we’re getting.

In other words, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to your sleep stages and cycles. All you can do is keep experimenting, whether that’s with your pre-sleep ritual, what time you go to bed, or what products and technology you use. With a consistent and concerted effort, you can dial in the right “recipe,” and get the ideal amount of restorative sleep you need each night.

Are there any particular products you use to get better sleep? Do you feel like you’re getting enough deep sleep? Let us know your thoughts on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @chilisleep.

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