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The most important sleep phase (it’s not what you think it is)

Spoiler alert! Your most important sleep phase isn’t REM. 

If you want to learn what experts say is the most crucial phase of sleep and find out how you can enhance your time in that stage, stay awake! We’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting your best sleep. 

Tell me more about the sleep cycle

Your sleep cycle consists of four different stages: N1, N2, N3, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The first three are non-rapid eye movement stages, getting progressively deeper until you reach REM sleep. 

On average, one sleep cycle lasts 90-110 minutes, with most of the cycle spent in N2 sleep. 

In the past, the REM phase of the sleep cycle was thought to be the most essential phase. It’s associated with dreaming, forming memories, and creativity— making REM crucial for re-energizing your mind and body. 

New research has shown that another phase of the sleep cycle is actually more impactful for your body’s rest and restoration. 

What’s the most important sleep phase? 

N3, or slow-wave sleep (SWS), is characterized by slow, high-amplitude brain waves and is considered the most critical sleep phase for regeneration. It’s during this deepest stage of sleep that sleepwalking and night terrors occur. Some people may even be able to sleep through noises over 100 decibels while in slow-wave sleep. 

Your body uses this stage to repair and regrow tissues, build muscle and bone, and strengthen your immune system. During SWS, your body secretes human growth hormone at a higher rate than other stages, and your nervous system prioritizes parasympathetic over sympathetic functions— focusing on restoring your body to help you feel calm and safe.

If your alarm clock goes off during slow-wave sleep, studies show that you may be cognitively impaired by a sense of mental fogginess for up to one hour. 

How can I get more N3 deep sleep?

Enhancing your N3 deep sleep isn’t a distant dream; it’s a practical goal. While the second half of the night is often weighted toward REM sleep, the first half is characterized by more deep sleep. In early sleep cycles, the N3 stage commonly lasts between 20 and 40 minutes. Later in the night, REM takes dominance in the sleep cycles. 

So, how can you make sure you’re getting your most restorative night’s sleep? Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Set a consistent sleep schedule
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Use a sleep cycle alarm clock to avoid wakeups during deep sleep
  • Consult your Apple Watch, Whoop or Oura’s sleep coaching features to track and manage your sleep
  • Exercise regularly

While we can’t help you with the first six points, we can help you establish a fitness routine through private or two-on-one sessions tailored to your specific needs. Studies show exercise can reduce sleep latency (help you fall asleep faster), getting you into SWS faster.

Book your discovery call now, and in our free, 20-minute call, we’ll assess your needs, plan your workout space, and suggest fitness equipment. Consistent workouts are key to restorative sleep. We’ll see you on the mat!  

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