Are you sleeping enough?

Everything you need to know about sleep cycles

In today's busy and fast paced world, sleep is considered a luxury.  Most adults and probably many children are sleep deprived, but are not aware.  Angela Walsh (New York), Certified Child Sleep Consultant ( by the Family Sleep Institute and Founder of Babes in Sleepland (, didn't realize she was sleep deprived until becoming a sleep consultant. 6.5-7 hours of sleep a  night sounds like a good night's rest to a most of us, but is this really enough? 

Here Walsh reviews the two types of sleep and the stages involved with each, the recommended amount of sleep we should all strive for as well as easy to follow tips to accomplish healthy sleep.

Sleep Type #1:  Non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement)

This is the first type of sleep and has four stages.  (Some studies will put stage 3 and 4 together.)

  • Stage 1:  Transition to sleep.   It lasts about 5 minutes and during this time muscle activity slows down, eyes move slowly under the lids and you are easily awakened. This is also a time when you might experience what is called a myoclonic jerk (startled) or the sense that you are falling.
  • Stage 2:  Light sleep.  This stage lasts from 10-25 minutes.  Heart rate and body temperature go down.  Eyes stop moving.
  • Stage 3: Transitioning to deep sleep as slow brain waves known as "delta" waves begin to emerge.
  • Stage 4:  Deep sleep.  You cannot be easily awakened and if you do wake you will feel groggy and disoriented.  Your brain waves have slowed down considerably and your blood flow is directed towards your muscles in order to restore your physical energy.  You may dream during this stage but the dreams will be disconnected, less vivid and less memorable than during REM sleep.

Sleep Type #2:  REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep

  • This is known as dream sleep. It takes place about 70-90 minutes after falling asleep.  Your eyes move rapidly and your heart rate and blood pressure increase.  Your muscles are paralyzed.  (If you ever have a frightening dream and you want to get away from whatever is threatening you, this explains why you can't!)  The first cycle of REM sleep may last for a short period of time, but with each cycle the length of time will increase and can last up to an hour as sleep progresses.  REM sleep is important for mood and memory.
  • Every stage of sleep is important because your body needs each in order to fully restore itself.  You will usually cycle through these stages 4-6 times a night in a total of 90 minutes.  These cycles however do not go in order.  You will begin with stages 1,2,3,4 and then back to 3 and 2 before you go to REM sleep. Once REM is over you will return to stage 2.  Deep sleep takes place in the earlier part of the night, while REM and stage 2 in the later part.  This can explain why you may wake at 3 in the morning yet not at 1.
  • "When we talk about sleep deprivation we are talking about a lack of deep sleep. Deep sleep is essential for the body to repair itself, for boosting of the immune system and overall general maintenance which keeps us healthy," says Walsh.
  • The average adult spends 50% of sleep in stage 2 (light sleep), 20% in REM and 30% in the other stages.

So how much is enough sleep? Adults should get between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night.  Here are some tips to to make sure you are getting the correct amount for optimal health and alertness?

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine and heavy meals close to bed time.
  • Make your sleeping environment dark, cool and quiet.
  • Avoid the use of computers and cell phones before going to bed and while in bed as these have the effect of decreasing melatonin (the sleep hormone) in your body.
  • Go to bed earlier at night or get up later in the morning.

If you are experiencing memory or mood issues, try to increase your amount of sleep in the morning.  The early hours of the morning are when most of REM sleep takes place.

Above all, try to be consistent about when you go to bed, and if on weekends or holidays you are able to sleep a bit later to make up for a sleep debt, by all means do so!

Angela Walsh, founder of Babes in Sleepland, is an infant and toddler sleep consultant. I was certified by the Family Sleep Institute in 2013. I work with families in addressing such issues as frequent night wakings, late bedtimes, early wakings, inconsistent napping schedules, transitioning from a crib to a bed and from co-sleeping arrangements to single sleeping, nightmares and night terrors. I also help families with who are experiencing sleep issues with special needs children.  Visit

ABOUT FAMILY SLEEP INSTITUTE The Family Sleep Institute is the very first comprehensive yet affordable child sleep consultant certification program based on 15 years of experience by the leading Child Sleep Expert, Deborah Pedrick. The Family Sleep Institute lives up to its name as it is truly a "family" to all graduates who go through the program. Deborah Pedrick, founder of has been educating families for over 15 years on the importance of establishing and maintaining a healthy foundation for sleep in their children. She is co-founder of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants, and Founder/President of the Family Sleep Institute,, which instructs, mentors and certifies Child Sleep Consultants around the world. Deborah resides in Stamford, CT with her teenage son, Soren. She has a private practice consulting parents on how to establish and maintain healthy sleep habits in their family. She has been quoted/interviewed in The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Parents Magazine, NY Family Magazine, and has been a contributing sleep expert for "The Doctors" television show. Deborah is a member of the National Sleep Foundation and the American Sleep Association.