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Time Your Sleep for More Energy

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Sleep Cycles Last About 90 Minutes Each.

Sleep is a funny thing. It's one of the ways our bodies recharge and rebuild. But sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to get all the sleep you want. That's when you need to switch to something I call, "tactical sleep." By timing when you go to bed and when you wake up, it's possible to sleep a little less but feel more refreshed. Here's how it all works.

Stage One

When you fall asleep, you go through several stages. The first 1 to 7 minutes are spent in stage one. Your brain is moving from wakefulness to a wakeful relaxation state. Breathing and heart rate slow as you drift off. Noises and movement can easily interrupt you. If you're jarred awake during stage one, you might think you've been awake the whole time.

Stage Two

Stage two lasts between 10 and 25 minutes during the first cycle and it gets a little longer each time you go through it. You're a little harder to wake up at this point. If you've ever had the sensation of falling when you first drift off, this is the stage when it happens. It's believed that memories are consolidated during this stage of sleep.

Stage Three & Four

Stage three and four are known as slow-wave sleep. Heart rate and breathing drop even more while tissue regeneration and healing really kick in. Stage three is brief, only lasting a few minutes. Stage four can easily stretch from 20 to 40 minutes in the first cycle, getting progressively longer each additional cycle. These two stages are so similar, sleep researchers often score them together.

REM Sleep

Finally, you move into REM or "Rapid Eye Movement" sleep. You experience bursts of rapid eye movements, dreams are at their most vivid, your brain stores memories and processes information. REM sleep may only last 2-7 minutes the first time you go through it, but like the other cycles, it gets progressively longer each time.

When your body finishes REM sleep, you move back into stage one and start it all over again. This is very important. The entire process, going from stage one all the way through REM sleep takes the average person about 90 minutes. Here's where the tricky part comes in.

If you should wake up while you're in stage one, you'll tend to feel alert and energized. If an alarm or someone wakes you up during one of the other stages, you'll have a tougher time trying to shake the feeling of being tired, groggy and unfocused.

To make sure you wake up at the optimum time, count backward from when you're supposed to wake up. Count your sleep time in 90-minute increments. If you're supposed to wake up at 7:00 am, and you want it to happen when you'll be the most refreshed, you should get to sleep by 10 pm, 11:30 pm, 1:00 am or 2:30 am. Fall asleep at any one of those times and you'll tend to wake up more alert and energetic.

A good nights sleep should have you going through 5 or 6 sleep cycles, or between 7.5 and 9 hours.

If you don't want to do the math, there's a wonderfully simple website at www.sleepyti.me that can figure it all out for you. Simply enter the time you're supposed to wake up and sleepyti.me will tell you the ideal times to fall asleep.

A few important things to remember.

  • The average person takes about 14 minutes to fall asleep. When you calculate your bedtime, remember to add 14 minutes onto that time so you'll truly be asleep at the appropriate moment.

  • Don't use the snooze alarm. Most snooze cycles are between 7 and 9 minutes. That's not enough time for your body to achieve deep sleep and the stress it causes can do more harm than good. When your alarm goes off, get up.

  • When you want a quick energy boost, nap for 10 to 20 minutes. Longer than that and you'll wake up groggy.

  • To improve memory, nap for a full hour. Your brain will reach slow-wave sleep and you'll be better at remembering faces, facts and places. The downside is you'll probably be groggy when you wake up.

  • To improve creativity, nap for 90 minutes to 2 hours so you go through an entire sleep cycle. Because you complete the full cycle you shouldn't wake up groggy.

Time your sleep to match your sleep cycle. You'll wake up far more energetic, refreshed and prepared to face the day.

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Updated 10/29/2013