Getting good sleep is important, but it isn’t always as easy as getting a solid 8 hours. Understanding how sleep works will give you the ability to improve your quality of sleep. There are a lot of factors involved in getting quality Zs, but what actually IS quality sleep? It comes down to sleep cycles, and making sure you get the correct amount of time each night in each cycle.  So what are these sleep cycles?

Sleep Cycles

There are 5 stages of sleep: Stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM.

Falling Asleep

Stages 1 & 2 of sleep are typically where you start to fall asleep. Breathing and heart-rate slow and body temperature dips in anticipation of deep sleep. Many people experience the feeling of falling where muscles will contract suddenly, called hypnic myoclonia. It is fairly easy to be woken up during this stage.

Deep Sleep

Stages 3 and 4 are considered deep sleep. Deep sleep is usually the toughest cycle to achieve, but is associated with a restful great nights sleep and if reached will leave you feeling great when you wake up. This level of sleep is incredibly difficult to wake from and will leave people disoriented and confused if awoken.


The most well known sleep cycle is Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep. This sleep cycle is characterized by lots of eye movement, the presence of dreams, and is the lightest sleep, meaning you have a greater likelihood of waking up. The REM cycle is the last cycle in our sleep cycle and usually when people wake (without the aid of an alarm) in the morning. One sleep cycle in total takes roughly 90 minutes and shortens in time after third cycle. You will likely not hit deep sleep again after that third cycle as your body prepares to wake back up in the morning. As you set your hours of sleep try to make sure you get a restful night’s sleep by avoiding waking up to an alarm in your deep sleep cycle. Also avoid sleep aids such as cough syrups or even alcohol as these drugs will affect your sleep cycle and in many cases prevent REM sleep which will leave you feeling tired and exhausted.

How to Improve your sleep schedule

What to Avoid

There are many things that can have an adverse affect on sleep cycles. Avoiding consuming certain drugs or food before going to bed can have an amazing impact on the quality of your sleep and in turn the quality of your life. Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, as it disrupts your ability to enter REM sleep. Caffeine can also have adverse effects on your sleep schedule and can prevent you from falling into deep sleep stages.

Room Conditions

As kids we all needed a night light. As adults it’s time to realize that excessive light, such as sleeping with a tv on, can do serious damage to your sleep cycles. Too much light, extreme temperatures, poor mattresses, and loud noises can all have detrimental effects to your quality of sleep.