Following sleep cycles may seem mystifying at first, but with a little knowledge, you can easily use information about your body’s natural sleep cycles to wake up more refreshed.
Waking up at the wrong time in your sleep cycle is a major cause of poor sleep and sluggish energy through the day.
A simple change to your wake up routine may be all that you need to sleep well and wake up more rested.
When you first go to sleep, typically you fall into a light sleep, followed by a deep sleep, and then a dream sleep (REM cycle). The amount of time you spend in each phase shifts through the night.
For example, in the final cycles of the night, you spend more time in REM sleep than deep sleep- a primary reason why people wake up with vivid memories of their dreams.
Regardless of shifts, a complete sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes and is repeated several times throughout the night.
For example, if you go to bed at 11 and wake up at 8, you will have completed about 3 sleep cycles, and should be waking up around the time your sleep is lightest.
If you sleep well past 8:00 am, you could actually wake up groggier, even though you’ve had more sleep, because you fell back into a deep sleep.
As a general rule to wake up refreshed, strive to wake up during your lightest sleep. This allows your sleep cycle to come to a natural finish. Definitely avoid abrupt wake ups, and waking up off your cycle time.
It’s also important to be aware that each person’s sleep cycle is slightly different. Adjust your scheduled wake up time if you find that waking up 15 minutes earlier or later works better for you.
Another tip for using sleep cycles is to stop hitting snooze. If you’re always “snoozing”, you’re making waking up very difficult. Falling back to sleep after hitting snooze sends you into a new sleep cycle.
If you wake up mid deep sleep, you will be even more bleary eyed and exhausted than if you had woken up when your alarm first went off.
In addition to following sleep cycles, take time to wake up properly. That sluggish feeling you get between waking up and being fully awake is called “sleep inertia”.
Sleep inertia is worsened the more abruptly you’re woken up and if you wake up mid deep sleep cycle. The brain requires time to become “operational” after sleep.
When you wake up, brain stem arousal is activated almost immediately, but the prefrontal cortex (involved in cognition and decision making) takes longer (20 minutes or so) to get going.
This is why tasks like preparing coffee are so difficult when you first wake up. It’s also why some of us make poor decisions in the morning, and do crazy things like warm up our breakfast in the freezer.
To start your day properly, turn on the lights, perform light stretches, and do some deep breathing exercises for 20-30 minutes. This gives your brain time to wake up.
If you are still struggling with focus or are extra clumsy in the morning, help yourself out by completing tasks like making lunches in the evening when your brain and body are more alert.
If you have insomnia or other sleep issues, you may need extra support to make sleep cycling work for you.
Everyone’s sleep cycles are slightly different, and some people may not reach deep sleep or REM sleep at regular times in the night.
If this sounds like you, try a sleep cycle alarm clock. Sleep cycle alarm clocks track your breathing and movement, and are designed to wake you up during your lightest sleep period.
Sleep cycle apps like Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock and Pillow are also available to help you target your wake up times. Just set your phone on your nightstand and let the application track your sleep cycles for you.
Aim for 7.5-9 hours of sleep for the best results. Your body needs this amount of sleep to function optimally.
I also recommend using herbs like passionflower or hops to encourage healthy sleep, especially if you have trouble falling asleep or wake up throughout the night.
My favorite blend is Sleep Nightly tonic, but chamomile or skullcap tea work well for many people, too.