Sleeping is something everyone does each day without consciously thinking about why it is so important. We know we are tired before we sleep and if we don’t sleep, but have we ever stopped to think about what our dreams do? Dreams are part of every night’s sleep whether we remember them or not. They are an integral part of our daily rest cycle.
There are five main stages of sleep. Stage I only lasts a few minutes and is characterized by the individual being somewhat awake and aware, but very relaxed. Stages II and III are deeper levels of sleep but the individual will still wake easily. Stages II and III only last for about 40 minutes before Stage IV sleep begins. Stage IV sleep is difficult to wake someone from and is characterized by decreased blood pressure, heart rate, movement and breathing. This type of sleep helps the body recover physically from the day. Stage IV sleep becomes longer if one engages in a lot of strenuous activity and is usually the type of sleep recalled in the morning. After Stage IV sleep is achieved for about 50 minutes, the individual starts to move back down through the levels of sleep back to Stage I. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep begins at this time and is distinguished by “frequent bursts of rapid eye movements…autonomic activity, muscular twitching, dreams and profound muscular relaxation” (2). Both genders experience irregular heart rate and irregular blood pressure as well as increased gastric secretions during REM sleep, while males also experience erections. The cycles of sleep do not last for the same amount of time all night; “Everyone goes through an average of four or five cycles of sleep each night, each lasting from 90 to 100 minutes. Stage IV decreases and REM sleep increases progressively with each cycle, so that most Stage IV sleep occurs early in the night and most REM sleep during the last few hours before arising” (2).