An intriguing book about sleeping is Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health, by Dr. Michael Breus. While sleep may sometimes look like nothing is going on, Dr. Breus describes how “during sleep, the brain goes through a dance.”
According to Dr. Breus, “the dance” is composed of 4 major movements that together take about 90 minutes, and then this sequence repeats about five more times in a normal sleeping episode. While uninterrupted sleep may seem like the ideal, understanding the cycles our brain goes through while we sleep may lessen the anxiety of thinking that brief periods of wakefulness preclude getting a good night’s rest.
The first piece in the cycle of sleep is a light drowsy stage, in which we begin to relax and let go of consciousness. This is followed by the second stage when our body temperature drops and our breathing and heart rate are even and regular. At this point we are ready to enter the next phase of sleep, sometimes called delta or deep sleep. This phase shows up on a FitBit or other sleep monitoring device as waves of deep blue sleep. It is during this important phase that the body produces growth hormone and repairs itself. Our blood pressure drops and muscles relax. In the final stage, when the body is still deeply at rest, our eyes move back and forth (Rapid Eye Movement) while we dream and consolidate our memories from the day. (I sometimes see my little dog’s eyes doing this, and I wonder if she is having sweet dreams.)
Rehearsing this beautiful process in our minds before we go to bed may help us to welcome sleep and do what we can to prevent interruption in the cycles. Working an unusual shift, having chronic pain, caring for children or others who may not sleep well are challenges that can interfere with a “good night’s sleep.” Some parents with young children actually take turns being on and off duty so that as often as possible they can get needed sleep. Once we know the steps of a dance, everything in us wants to just relax and flow with the music. Sleep can be like that.