July 18, 2023
If you have ever pulled an all-nighter, then you know you can expect to feel groggy the next day. Why then do you sometimes feel drained even after a full night’s sleep? If you have sleep apnea, then scheduling the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep each night doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting quality rest.
Sleep apnea refers to a disorder that interrupts your breathing when you’re asleep. It’s imperative to experience all the different stages of sleep each night to wake up rested, but sleep apnea interrupts the sleep cycle. Continue reading to learn more about what happens at each stage in the sleep cycle and why it’s so important to address sleep apnea.
What Are Sleep Cycles?
Our bodies typically go through several rounds of sleep cycles each night. Each cycle involves 4 stages that include periods of both REM (rapid eye movement) as well as NREM (non-REM) patterns. The average person usually goes through 4-6 cycles each night with each lasting about 90 minutes.
The first two stages are considered “light” sleep and the last two are “deep” sleep. Our bodies are meant to regularly rotate through these various stages each night to rejuvenate both our mental and physical health. For those with sleep apnea, these cycles are interrupted by atypical breathing patterns so they don’t get the time necessary in each stage to wake refreshed and restored.
What Is Considered Light Sleep?
The first two stages of the sleep cycle are considered “light” because your body starts to relax but is still somewhat alert. In the first stage (N1), brain activities start to slow but your body is not yet fully at rest. As a result, you may experience brief movements as you fall asleep. This stage usually lasts about 1-7 minutes and, if uninterrupted, quickly leads to the next.
During the second stage (N2), your muscles loosen and your breathing and heart rate slow. Brain activity decreases and eye movements stop. Your temperature drops and you become less aware of your surroundings. This stage can last anywhere from 10-25 minutes until you drop into deep sleep.
What is Deep Sleep?
During deep sleep, it’s harder to wake up and we are not aware of the world around us. We first enter deep sleep during stage 3 (N3) of the sleep cycle. Our brains emit delta waves as our muscles, pulse, and breathing rate relax even further. Typically lasting 20-40 minutes, this stage strengthens the immune system and allows for bodily recovery and growth.
The final stage is REM sleep. During REM, our muscles are in a state of temporary paralysis except for our eyes and autonomic breathing muscles. Brain activity picks up in this stage and though the eyes are closed, they move around rapidly. We can dream at any stage in the sleep cycle, but dreams are most vivid during REM. This stage of sleep is essential to various cognitive functions like memory, learning, and creativity.
Our bodies typically only reach REM if we have been asleep for approximately 90 minutes. For those with sleep apnea, there hasn’t been enough time in each period for the body to fully recover. Not only that, but it takes longer to reach restorative, deep sleep (if you reach it at all). Thankfully, your dentist can help you identify the right treatment for your sleep apnea. Whatever the cause, they can help you get back to having the happy and healthy night’s rest that you deserve!
About the Author
Dr. Kinnari Jariwala earned her dental degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry, and she has since completed many hours of continuing education focused on sleep and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) treatment. If you find that you’re feeling groggy and exhausted when you wake up in the morning, you can request a consultation on the website or by calling (505) 433-2107.
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