You may think going to sleep is all about getting rest and essentially, “recovering” from the day’s events. While this isn’t entirely untrue, you’d be surprised to learn just how active your brain is while you sleep. In fact, your body and brain do a lot of work during sleep cycles. Find out exactly what happens to your body while you snooze, and why it’s beneficial to get the sleep you need and deserve.
Just Nodding Off: Stage 1
When your head hits the pillow and you nod off, within minutes or sometimes seconds, you are in what is officially known as the “light sleep” stage. This isn’t surprising since you’ve only been asleep for a short while, but even in this short amount of time, your eye movement slows down and your brain is still in the stage that makes it easy for you to wake up. This is what is known as the “catnap” stage.
Power Nap: Stage 2
Just a bit longer than a “catnap” is a power nap, and during this stage, your brain waves will increase and produce “sleep spindles” before slowing down.
Deep Sleep: Stage 3 and 4
This is when your body completely relaxes. It is the stage we all strive to reach each night when we go to sleep. Your muscles relax and your eye movement ceases. Although some individuals are considered “light sleepers,” this is the stage most individuals have difficulty waking up, even if there is a massive thunderstorm keeping the whole neighborhood awake.
During this stage, your body is working to repair its muscles and tissues, as well as improve immune function and generate enough energy, so you can wake up and get started on the day ahead.
What is REM Sleep?
REM stands for “Rapid Eye Movement,” and this typically occurs after you’ve been asleep for 90 minutes or more and can last an hour. On average, you can expect to have 5 or 6 REM cycles, and once you’ve reached this final stage, your brain hits overdrive! If you think about all those crazy dreams you’ve had, this is when those nighttime images are happening. Whether it’s enjoying a vacation on the beach with your children or running from a crazed clown, your eyes move quickly, and your heart rate might even increase. Learning and memory function are occurring at a rapid rate during this phase, enabling you to remember what occurred throughout the day and store it in your long-term memory bank. So, now you finally have the answer as to why your ex, who you saw earlier in the day, showed up in your dream!
Each sleep cycle plays a big role in how your body functions the next day. Most patients that snore or have sleep apnea experience “interruptions” in their sleep cycles. These interruptions never allow their body to get past Stage 3 sleep and cause them to bounce back to Stage 1 and start the cycle all over. An interruption could be a snore, a gasp or jerk, or even your spouse’s elbow in your side nudging you to wake. This is another reason most people with sleep disorders don’t have many dreams, have foggy memory, or develop other health issues caused by lack of Stage 3, 4 or even REM sleep.
So if you’re not getting the rest you need or are suffering from a disorder such as sleep apnea, it is suggested you talk to a sleep dentist about next steps. If you receive an official diagnosis, your dentist can help you review treatment options that will help you get the sleep you need.
About the Author
Dr. Mitch Conditt, DDS, graduated from Baylor College of Dentistry in 1985 and has been practicing general and restorative dentistry ever since. Noticing many of his patients having problems with TMJ, he also discovered many were suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Conditt pursued advanced training on ways to help people with TMJ and sleep apnea, and he now works with his patients to help them overcome sleep and pain issues. To learn more about Dr. Conditt, visit our website or call (817) 527-8500.