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How Long Is A Typical Sleep Cycle

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Sleep Is Essential For Good Health Here We Explore The Sleep Cycle And The Stages Of Sleep To Learn Why It’s So Important

Leonaura Rhodes, MD

Our cycle of slumber involves four distinct sleep stages, the deepest of which is REM sleep.

One-third of all American adults are not getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But why does it matter so much? Well, simply put: Inadequate sleep is bad for your health. It’s linked to chronic conditions and illnesses like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and depression. It is also linked to accidents and poor performance at work—not to mention the effect that being sleep-deprived and grumpy can have on relationships. The secret to why sleep is so important for health lies in the sleep cycle—our sleep stages.

Getting A Good Nights Sleep Is All About How You Feel When You Wake Up Right

Imagine a Saturday morning when you open your eyes naturally and how peaceful that feels. Now imagine when your alarm goes off Monday morning and how hard it is to get out of bed. The interesting thing is that it’s not necessarily because you got less sleep. In fact, it has more to do with where you are in your sleep cycle when you wake up.

In this article, we explore the phases of your natural sleep cycle, when to sleep, and how to wake up refreshed. We look at how many hours of sleep are recommended and how to use a sleep cycle calculator  to find the best time to wake up.

Rem Light Deep: How Much Of Each Stage Of Sleep Are You Getting

Waking up tired, angry, or cranky? If you use a Fitbit Alta HR, Fitbit Charge 3Fitbit Versa, Fitbit Ionic, or Charge 4, your sleep data may soon be able to reveal why. By tapping into your nighttime heart rate and movement patterns, these devices will be able to estimate how much time you spend in light, deep, and rapid eye movement sleep. Pretty cool, right? Each of these stages—or sleep types—serve a different purpose, so understanding how much of each stage you log can help you identify and address sleep-related issues. Below, a breakdown of what you need to know about each sleep stage.

Get The Right Amount Of Sleep To Boostperformance + Positivity

Recent studies have proven that those who sleep well are more alert and have higher cognitive processing. They also noticed these positive symbols more often, leading to a more positive outlook. This can easily be translated to the workplace where communication and positivity are the key to a great work environment. This means that your most comfortable bed could be a key component to getting the job you want and creating the happy life you dream of. Don’t let anxiety stop you from sleeping! Using a weighted blanket will help you fight insomnia caused due to anxiety.

What Are The Stages Of Sleep And Average Sleep Time For Each

sleep cycle chart normal

There are 4 stages of sleep that your body experiences each night : Light sleep, deep sleep , REM sleep and awake. For a more in-depth explanation of how this works, check out Understanding Sleep Cycles and the Stages of Sleep.

Below we’ll give a brief overview of the 4 sleep stages, then break down what’s normal for how much time you should be spending in all of them.

A Sleep Cycles Overview: Dive Deep Into Each Stage Of Sleep

Aug 18, 2021 Maggie Schlundt

A good night’s sleep plays a critical role in restoring us and keeping us healthy. Yet sleep is not a static state of mind, and quality sleep is not simply the number of hours you clock in. In fact, as we sleep, our mind travels through different phases, each of which contributes in varying ways to our overall sleep quality. Here we untangle what happens when we sleep, explain the difference between REM and Non-REM sleep, sleep cycles and sleep stages and how the different stages affect your mind and body.

Healthy Sleep Habits And How To Improve Your Sleep Cycles:

Everyone is different and the amount of sleep we need varies for each individual. Yet there are a few common factors that can help improve the quality of your sleep. Waking up several times during the night for a prolonged period of time will most likely result in achieving less of NREM stage 3 sleep, that is, deep sleep. 

Over time this can affect your sleep quality and cause sleepiness and lack of focus during the day. Keeping a diary to note whether external factors, such as alcohol, caffeine intake, or stress contribute to a restless night’s sleep can be helpful for you to understand what steps you can take to improve your sleep. Making sure your bedroom is dark and cool and developing a routine that helps you wind down before bedtime can also lead to a better night’s sleep. 

Sleep and the quality of our sleep are fundamental to our well-being. Sleep cycles, and the sleep stages within them, are the reason we can take on each new day. So stay calm and carry on sleeping.  

How Long Is One Sleep Cycle And What Is Actually Happening

We spend one third of our lives sleeping. It’s one of the few activities we continually do throughout our lives. Whether we are young or old, sleep is vital to our way of life and health. But how much do we actually know about sleep? We mostly take it for granted and never actually learn what’s happening while we sleep. The fact is, a lot is going on while we sleep. Today we answer the question: how long is one sleep cycle, and we look a little further into what is going on during these cycles.

How Is An Infants Sleep Schedule Different From An Adults

Infants and adults differ with how much and when they sleep. Generally, healthy adults sleep at least seven hours each night, in a single block of time that is largely uninterrupted. In comparison, newborn babies require up to 18 hours of sleep, broken into multiple short periods, every 24-hours. By six months, babies sleep an average of about 13 hours each day, over larger blocks of time.

Many parents understandably want their baby to sleep through the night. The longer a baby sleeps quietly, the longer the parents can sleep. Unfortunately, most parents of newborns must accept their baby waking up several times during the night. Newborn babies wake up throughout the night because they have not fully developed a strong circadian rhythm that makes children and adults tired at night instead of during the day.

Most babies begin to approximate a more “adult” sleep schedule between three months and one year of age. During this time of life, babies begin to sleep for longer periods during the night and shorter periods during the day time.

However, not all babies conform to an “adult” sleep schedule at the same age. Parents should not worry if their baby is not “sleeping through the night” prior to one year of age. Even after one year, it is common for many babies to wake up at least once per night.

What Part Of The Brain Controls The Sleep Wake Cycle

The hypothalamus is the region of the brain that is responsible for our sleep wake cycles. Specifically, the neurons called ventrolateral preoptic nucleus in the hypothalamus control the transition into sleep.

The VLPO connect directly to the brain’s arousal centres. During the day, the VLPO will stimulate the arousal centre and create brain activity. At night, they restrict activity in the arousal centres by sending neuron signals.

Keep reading to find out more about the brain’s activity during the sleep cycle and in which stage dreaming takes place…


Stages Of Sleep And How Sleep Cycles Change With Age

It’s easy to think of sleep as one long stretch of inactivity, but there are 5 unique stages of sleep that the human body experiences. There are a lot of things happening in the body during sleep, and these cycles are necessary to fuel the body with energy and carry out bodily processes that contribute to overall wellness.

This article describes the stages of sleep and addresses common questions, such as what is REM sleep and how long is a sleep cycle. This article also discusses how sleep cycles can change with age.

What Is The Rem Sleep Stage And Why Is It Important

During REM sleep, the fourth stage in the sleep cycle, brain activity accelerates, and our body experiences muscle atonia- a temporary paralysis. Although the eyes can sometimes be still, mainly the eyes can be seen moving rapidly beneath the eyelids with the occasional rapid muscle twitching. Though dreams can pop up during any sleep stage, REM sleep is when we experience our most wild, vivid dreams.   

REM is thought to be important for emotions and motor-sensory functions. During REM sleep, the brain performs essential tasks: putting memories in their place, and enhancing cognitive functions. Think of sleep as a quiet time when our brain can finally get some housekeeping done.  

Sleep Cycles Vs Sleep Stages Whats The Difference

Why Do We Dream?

A sleep cycle is the physiological process that we go through as we sleep. We don’t sleep in one long phase, it’s much more complicated – and interesting – than that! Our total nightly sleep is made up of several sleep cycles. Each sleep cycle is typically classified into four sleep stages: N1, N2, deep sleep and REM sleep.

Not all sleep cycles during a night’s sleep necessarily contain all four sleep stages. For instance, we have more deep sleep and less REM sleep at the beginning of the night. Towards the morning, we have more REM sleep, but usually very little or no deep sleep in these later sleep cycles. Having less disruption during each sleep stage contributes to higher quality, recuperative sleep.

How Much Time Should You Spend In Each Sleep Stage

Below is a graphic depicting the average amount of time WHOOP members spend in each of the 4 stages of sleep on a nightly basis, as well as the percentage of total time each stage represents.


It’s worth noting that for the most part our members are people who are interested in tracking their physiological data 24/7 and improving their overall performance, so it’s likely they make more of an effort to get quality sleep than the general population as a whole.

Every human body is different, and the amount of sleep we need varies from person to person. The middle 50% of all WHOOP members average the following per night:

  • 3:28-3:59 of light sleep
  • 1:44-2:00 of REM sleep
  • 1:23-1:32 of deep sleep
  • 0:43-0:50 awake

Key Points To Remember About Normal Sleep Patterns

This page is about normal sleep in primary school children. There is also a page about normal sleep in teenagers.

  • sleep is important for children’s learning and behaviour
  • sleep helps to restore physical and mental health and keep our memory and immune system on track
  • children who do not get enough sleep may not be able to learn as well as their school friends who get enough sleep
  • sleep also helps children’s brains grow
  • school-aged children need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep per night
  • lack of sleep may cause your child to be moody, irritable, and cranky

How Many Sleep Cycles Do We Go Through Each Night

We go through at least 4 or 5 cycles every night. This is the recommended amount to feel energised and fresh when you wake up, so any less than this may cause you to feel tired and groggy.

In the first few cycles, we spend longer in the third stage, deep sleep. This is because our bodies prioritise the restoration of muscle tissue and cellular repair.

Once your body has completed the necessary restoration, this phase becomes shorter.

This allows for more time for stages 1, 2 and 3 in the later cycles. This offers an explanation as to why dreams seem to be longer towards the end of your cycle rather than when you first fall asleep.

Keep reading to find out which part of the brain controls these cycles…


Sleep Stages Within The Sleep Cycle: A Breakdown

Each of the four sleep stages has a distinct purpose, sparking unique brain activity. As we move through the stages, our breathing slows down, our muscles begin to relax and our heartbeat slows – all of this helps to recharge our mind and body as we sleep. Even though the brain remains hard at work during sleep, it is restorative labor!

Sleep stages

Table credit:Sleep Foundation

Our understanding of sleep stages keeps evolving:Prior to 2007, many sleep experts referred to five sleep stages. After a study was released by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine , the majority consensus was updated to confirm that there are four sleep stages within a sleep cycle.  

What Are The Different Alert Phases Of A Newborn

Babies also have differences in how alert they are during the time they are awake. When a newborn awakens at the end of the sleep cycles, there is typically a quiet alert phase. This is a time when the baby is very still, but awake and taking in the environment. During the quiet alert time, babies may look or stare at objects, and respond to sounds and motion. This phase usually progresses to the active alert phase in which the baby is attentive to sounds and sights, and moves actively. After this phase is a crying phase. The baby’s body moves erratically, and he or she may cry loudly. Babies can easily be overstimulated during the crying phase. It is usually best to find a way of calming the baby and the environment. Holding a baby close or swaddling may help calm a crying baby.

It is usually best to feed babies before they reach the crying phase. During the crying phase, they can be so upset that they may refuse the breast or bottle. In newborns, crying is a late sign of hunger.

What Influences The Quality And Length Of Sleep

Since sleep and wakefulness are influenced by different neurotransmitter signals in the brain, foods and medicines that change the balance of these signals affect whether we feel alert or drowsy and how well we sleep. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, and drugs such as diet pills and decongestants stimulate some parts of the brain and can cause insomnia, or an inability to sleep. Many antidepressants suppress REM sleep. Heavy smokers often sleep very lightly and have reduced amounts of REM sleep. They also tend to wake up after 3 or 4 hours of sleep due to nicotine withdrawal. Many people who suffer from insomnia try to solve the problem with alcohol – the so-called night cap. While alcohol does help people fall into light sleep, it also robs them of REM and the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. Instead, it keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep, from which they can be awakened easily.

We lose some of the ability to regulate our body temperature during REM, so abnormally hot or cold temperatures in the environment can disrupt this stage of sleep. If our REM sleep is disrupted one night, our bodies don’t follow the normal sleep cycle progression the next time we doze off. Instead, we often slip directly into REM sleep and go through extended periods of REM until we “catch up” on this stage of sleep.

How Much Deep And Light Sleep Do Children Need

Babies and children need more sleep than adults. Babies need the most, spending about 16 of every 24 hours asleep. Approximately 50 percent of their slumber is spent in the REM stage, while the other 50 percent is divided between stages 1 through 4 and NREM sleep that cycles between light and deep.

As children grow older, the amount of sleep they need varies:

  • toddlers: 11 to 14 hours
  • preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
  • school-aged children: 9 to 12 hours
  • teens: 8 to 10 hours

With enough sleep that appears to be restful, it’s likely that the light, deep, and REM ratio is exactly where it should be in young people.

If they’re having trouble with falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping well, or if they are sleeping way too much for their age, children may be irritable, could have learning and memory problems, or may be more susceptible to illness.

How Do I Use The Nectar Sleep Cycle Calculator

9 easy ways to improve sleep and your life

The Nectar sleep calculator is simple to use and a great solution for a better night’s sleep. The sleep cycle calculator tracks different stages of your sleep and only wakes you during your lightest stage. It’s an ideal alarm clock that won’t jerk your out of your stage 4 deep sleep or disorientate you from your REM. We highly recommend giving it a try!

How To Transition To A Better Sleeping Pattern

  • Measure the length of your sleep cycle. 90 minutes is a good average, but for some people it is different. Mine has actually changed in the last few years from 90 to about 75. Now, if I hit the pillow at 7:00, I wake up for the first time at 8:15. Never, ever using an alarm clock. Because of the change in sleep cycle length, I now get 4 cycles per day. Usually three late at night, and one in the evening.
  • The key thing is, it MUST be divided up into two distinct sleep sessions per day. It’s not enough to just get 4.5 hours and say “that’s my sleep done for today”. You’ll have a hard time staying awake for the remaining 19+ hours. You’ve got to divide it into two sleep sessions if possible. The REM sleep you achieve has to be spaced throughout the day for it to have the proper “flushing” effect. A noon nap or evening brief 90 seconds before your late and last set of cycles for the day.
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    What Sleeping Positions Are Best For A Newborn

    Research has found a link between sudden infant death syndrome and babies who sleep on their stomach .

    Experts now agree that putting a baby to sleep or down for a nap on his or her back is the safest position. Side-sleeping has a higher risk for SIDS than back sleeping. Other reports have found soft surfaces, loose bedding, and overheating with too many blankets also increase the risk for SIDS. When infants are put to sleep on their stomach and they also sleep on soft bedding, the risk for SIDS is even higher. Smoking by the mother is also a risk for SIDS, as are poor prenatal care and prematurity. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics made the “back-to-sleep” recommendation in 1992, the SIDS rate has dropped more than 50%.

    Back sleeping also appears to be safer for other reasons. There is no evidence that babies are more likely to vomit or spit up while sleeping on their back. In fact, choking may be more likely in the prone position.

    A task force of The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the AAP, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development offer the following recommendations for infant bedding:

    The AAP recommends that parents room share but not bed share. The report advises the following:

    To prevent overheating, the report recommends that the infant should be lightly clothed for sleep and the room temperature kept comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. Avoid overbundling, and check the baby’s skin to make sure it is not hot to the touch.


    What Happens To Your Body When You Don’t Sleep

    Sleep deprivation often leads to tiredness during the day. You may wake up feeling less refreshed and alert than you might after seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, and this can affect how you perform in different professional and social settings. Other immediate side effects of inadequate sleep include anger and irritability, impulsivity and poor decision-making, and trouble concentrating.

    Chronic lack of sleep can be very detrimental to your long-term health. Complications that may arise include:

    Heart disease and stroke: Sleep allows your blood pressure levels to temporarily  decrease during certain stages of the sleep cycle. Since blood pressure drops during sleep, less sleep means a smaller percentage of your 24-hour circadian cycle is spent in this low blood pressure zone. High blood pressure can be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

    Onset Period Followed By Four Phases Of Sleep

    When measuring total sleep time, sleep is considered to start when you close your eyes to fall asleep. The period between first closing your eyes and entering phase 1 is known as sleep onset.

    Phase 1 is very light sleep, where you are drifting in and out of consciousness and are easily woken. In phase 2 the functioning of the brain slows down but there are still short bursts of activity.

    The first two phases of light sleep make up about half of the total sleep cycle. Phases 3 and 4 are the deep sleep phases. You dream in phase 4. When this phase ends, you sleep more lightly again before a new full sleep cycle starts. Some people completely or partially wake up after the sleep cycle ends, while others stay asleep until morning.

    Total sleep time ends when you wake up and then stay awake and get up.

    Sleep Architecture: How Much Sleep Do We Need

    The pattern of sleep that we each get—including how much time we spend in each stage—is called “sleep architecture.” Most adults thrive on seven to nine hours of sleep per night, while teenagers with developing brains need about 9.5 hours. Not surprisingly, infants, with the fastest-developing brains of all, need up to 16 hours of sleep per day.

    So what is the ideal pattern of sleep? Each sleep cycle lasts on average of 90 to 110 minutes and is repeated four to six times per night. Early in the night, the cycle is shorter.

    For a healthy adult:

    Making The Most Of Your 90 Minute Sleep Cycle


    Contrary to popular belief, throughout a full night of sleep, we don’t cycle through the above phases in consecutive order repeatedly. A full night of sleep usually looks more like the diagram below, which contributes to the slightly varied duration of a sleep cycle. 



    To understand or optimize your own sleep cycle, we always recommend using a sleep tracker. You can also find out more about when you should go to bed or wake up, or read more about alternative sleep schedules.

    Sleep Stages:understanding Your Sleep Cycles

    Many people believe the brain “shuts off” to rest during sleep. However, that’s not necessarily the case — there’s more going on behind the eyelids than one may think. The brain goes through several different cycles throughout the time it’s sleeping. These cycles evolve through the various stages of sleep, starting with NREM sleep and progressing to REM sleep. The typical person starts a new sleep cycle every 90 to 120 minutes, meaning they likely go through four or five cycles during a night of rest. Here we’ll cover the different stages of sleep, which are the most important, how much sleep one should get and how sleep changes throughout a lifetime. 

    How Do Sleep Cycles Progress As A Baby Grows

    Sleep Cycle

    A newborn baby’s sleep cycle falls into the two categories of REM/active and NREM/quiet. In the first few months of life, babies’ sleep is split nearly evenly between REM and NREM sleep stages. As a baby grows, their sleep cycles progress and they begin to spend less time in REM sleep. They also begin experiencing the three stages of NREM, instead of one. As a baby grows, their sleep cycle looks more and more like an adults’ sleep cycle.

    Understanding a baby’s sleep cycle is important for parents interested in sleep training. Because babies are not born with a strong circadian rhythm, sleep training is not possible for most newborns. Parents who want to sleep train have to work with their baby’s unique development timeline, and might not be able to sleep train until six months of age.

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