In essence, sleep is a partial detachment from the world, where most external stimuli are blocked from the senses. Normal sleep is characterized by a general decrease in body temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and most other bodily functions. In contrast, the human brain never decreases inactivity. Studies have shown that the brain is as active during sleep as it is when awake. Throughout an eight-hour sleep cycle, a normal adult alternates between two very different states, non-REM and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
What is the Sleep Cycle?
Sleep is characterized by two distinct states, non-REM sleep and REM sleep. Non-REM and REM sleep alternate in 90- to 110-minute cycles. A normal sleep pattern has 4-5 cycles. This explains why the cycles of sleep have been compared to going up and down a stairway.
The five-step sleep cycle repeats itself throughout a night of sleeping, much like a roller coaster. As a person drifts off, Stage 1 begins. After a few minutes, the EEG detects sleep. It may take anywhere from 30 – 40 minutes to cycle through Stage 2 through 4. Now, an individual backtracks through Stage 3, then Stage 2, and finally into REM sleep. This occurs 4 - 5 times per night.