Sleeping Soundly: The Differences Between the Stages of Sleep

Sleep: it’s something we all need and are cranky without. Not only that, but when we miss sleep, our moods can fluctuate and we can find it difficult to function altogether. As a result, taking the time to learn and understand how sleep works is an important way to help yourself get a good night’s sleep.

Falling asleep each night isn’t as simple as putting on your PJs, turning off the light and closing your eyes. Once you wake up, you may not remember what happened while you slept, but a lot was taking place! During a good, full night’s sleep your body goes through different “stages.” Here is what you need to know about each of them.

Stage 1

This is the part of sleep that you might remember most. It’s those moments right after you close your eyes, when you’re in an extremely light sleep and can be woken up easily. You might even still be aware of your surroundings. If you doze off while watching TV or during class, you typically don’t go much further than Stage 1 sleep.

Stage 2

Going a little deeper now, Stage 2 describes the light state of sleep when your body begins to prepare for a night of rest. Even though you’re still easily woken, your breathing and heart rate begin to slow down and your body temperature starts to drop.

Image Credit: Colton Witt

Stages 3 & 4

Stages 3 and 4 are both very deep states of sleep. It’s harder to wake you up at this point and if you do wake up, you often feel confused and disoriented. Your breathing and heart rate continue to drop and your muscles relax. This is when your energy begins to be restored and when important hormones (such as growth hormones) are released throughout your body.

There aren’t many differences between Stages 3 and 4 of sleep, except in the brain waves that are taking place. Put simply, Stage 4 has more delta waves than Stage 3, which contribute to an even deeper sleep. That being said, many explanations of sleep stages now combine Stage 3 and 4 together.


REM stands for “Rapid Eye Movement” and is a stage of sleep that occurs approximately 90 minutes after you fall asleep and every 90 minutes after. It gets this name because, even while they are closed, your eyes dart back and forth quickly. During this stage, your brain and body accumulate precious energy to use throughout your day. Furthermore, your brain is active, which means that you can often have intense and vivid dreams.

Put simply, sleep is an extremely important part of day, even though we may not realize it. Ensure that your sleep environment is a good one by shutting out excess light, keeping temperatures cool and turning off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Getting exercise in your day and eating well can also help you get a good rest. If your mind is cluttered, journaling, meditation and breathing exercises can all help it to calm down.

Feature Image: lorenkerns