What do you notice when you watch a child sleeping?

On the surface, you see a peaceful and restful child and oh-how beautiful they look. If you look a little longer, soon you will notice movement in the eyes, coupled with some light jerks of the hands and legs. Well, verily, verily I say unto you… it’s normal.

While all voluntary muscular activities are temporarily suspended, your brain is still somewhat active and shift into different STAGES – REM sleep & Non-REM sleep. These sleep stages can be seen with an electroencephalograph (now say it 10 times), in short, it’s just EEG! With these stages, you’ll understand sleep better and perhaps, just perhaps become more conscious of your own sleeping habit.

Here are the sleep stages in a nutshell.

When we sleep, our brains cycle from stage to stage. To understand the stages better, just imagine yourself falling asleep in your apartment located in a very busy city.

NREM Stage 1:

In this stage, you close your eyes but you are conscious of your surroundings. You can still hear the taxis honking and the piercing sound of an ambulance. It feels like you are not sleeping yet. Some may even feel the feeling of falling at this stage.

NREM Stage 2:

Slowly, your body relaxes, your heart rate slows down and body feels a tad warmer. The hustle and bustle of the city begins to quieten down and it does not bother you as much. This stage of light sleep last only about 20 minutes and you are about to enter into deep sleep.

NREM Stage 3 & 4:

These two stages are relatively known as deep sleep. The EEG would show slow waves pattern (only 50% of brain activity). At this stage, your body repairs bones and skin, and stabilizes your hormone levels.

Stage 4 is more intense and it’s also an important stage of sleep because our energy is restored in this stage. If stage 4 is deprived, you wake up in the morning still feeling physically tired.

Stages 1 to 4 sleep cycle is also known as Non-REM sleep. The NREM stages is important for us because our body repairs and regenerates tissues, strengthens our immune system and builds bones and muscles. That explains why everyone needs plenty of sleep as it is essential for growth, health and brain development.

There are notable physical changes in the body while you sleep; for example, your respiration rate becomes more rapid and irregular but shallow, your heart rate increases, and your eyes move in different directions.

REM Stage (Rapid Eye Movement) Stage 5:

Most vivid dreams occur in this stage of REM sleep as a result of the intense brain activity.  From being in your room sleeping to suddenly rescuing a princess in the “Sahara Desert”, you engage your whole self in your “action-packed movie”, your body is temporarily paralyzed (called Atonia), this happens to prevent you from physically replicating the action-packed kung-fu movements in your dreams! The REM stage is the combination of heightened brain activity and muscular paralysis; hence, it’s sometimes called the paradoxical sleep! Interesting!

You must know that it sleep does not just progress through the sequence in order. The sleep cycles moves from stage to stage and it looks something like this: stage 1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > 3 > 2 > REM > 2. This sleep cycle happens about 4 to 5 times throughout the night. But when morning comes, most of your sleep consists of stages 1 and 2, or sometimes REM. Ideally, waking up in the early stages of sleep is best, helping you feel refreshed and less groggy in the morning.

Children and infants get most REM sleep, and as you age, the percentage of REM sleep decreases. The REM sleep is particularly important because many theories suggest with the lack of REM sleep, it causes irritability and anxiety as REM sleep aids in the development of our nervous system. Moreover, REM sleep can also help to improve memory.

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