Do you ever wake up to an alarm and feel like it must still be the middle of the night? Or that you are so disoriented and groggy that it takes longer than usual to feel awake and alert? Maybe you wake up and your first thought is “when can I go back to sleep?” If you answered yes to any of these – this article is for you!

Waking up during stage 4 sleep or during REM sleep is often why we feel this way. In an ideal world, we would be able to wake up naturally when our bodies have slept enough. Let’s take a look at the different stages of sleep, why they’re important, and why it’s better to wake up during some stages over others.

Stage 1

  • Light sleep. You can wake up easily.

Stage 2 & 3

  • Your heart rate and body temperature are slowly dropping as sleep is gradually transitioning from light to deep.

Stage 4

  • Muscles are immobilized, allowing the body to repair and re-build bone and muscle. This is especially important after working out or exercising.
  • Without sufficient Stage 4 sleep, it can take longer for muscles to heal and regenerate, and muscle stiffness and soreness could be more pronounced and last longer.

REM Sleep

  • Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, in my opinion, is the most vital to your health. It’s during this stage of sleep that your brain sorts through the information that you learned that day and integrates and stores the information into your long-term memory
  • Without REM sleep, learning and memory are greatly impacted, and other cognitive effects will likely be experienced.
  • The amount of REM sleep you get with each successive sleep cycle increases throughout the night, so keep in mind that getting fewer sleep cycles on a regular basis can negatively impact your memory and your overall efficiency and productivity in your every day living.

The dilemma: How can we wake up during lighter stages of sleep to wake up alert instead of groggy when we have to be up at a certain time to make it to work, school, or other scheduled events?

The solution: Set your alarm based on how many sleep cycles you have time for. The average time to get through one sleep cycle is 90 minutes and it’s ideal to get at least 5 sleep cycles per night. That means 7.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and depending on how long it usually takes you to fall asleep you can adjust the total time in bed. For example, giving yourself a total of 8 hours in bed will allow for 30 minutes to fall asleep and still give you 7.5 hours of sleep. There are also many ways to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, helping to maximize your sleeping time.

There are bound to be individual differences in the length of sleep cycles, and because of this, I’ve found the Sleep Cycle App to be the best solution for me. It’s so easy to use: set the alarm, place the phone face down on the bed, and the app will analyze your sleep throughout the night and wake you up during your lightest phase of sleep. I put my phone on airplane mode to prevent any potential radiation, and will usually choose the option of a half-hour wake up window during the week when I need to be up at more specific times. The app can do so much more than just help with waking you during your lightest sleep, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Here’s an example of how you can use your sleep cycles to your advantage. Say you usually go to bed at 11pm and get up at 7am every day. But one night you’re up until midnight but still need to get up at 7am. In this case it’s best to set your alarm for 6:30 instead of sleeping in until 7am because you will feel more tired if you cut off your sleep in the middle of the sleep cycle during the deepest level of sleep. And then you can make up for the lost sleep the next time you’re able to by trying to get in 6 sleep cycles instead of 5.

Here’s to waking up rested, refreshed, and alert. Happy sleeping and waking up!

Information can be empowering, but we all have unique health profiles and needs. The information in this post is intended for education purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with your primary care physician. For more information or individualized treatment, consult a Naturopathic Physician or call Motus Health & Wellness and we will come to a city near you!