This is your Brain on Sleep – Stages of Sleep


Cycling through the Sleep Stages
Part of the Sleep Series

© by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

“Sleep is not a luxury or an indulgence but a
fundamental biological need, enhancing 
creativity,
productivity, mood, and the ability to interact with others.”

~ Russell G. Foster, a leading expert on chronobiology

zzzzz_in bed_blue 298x232Gettin’ those Zzzz’s

Until the mid-twentieth century, most scientists believed that we were asleep for approximately a third of our lives — experienced, primarily, in a uniform block of time that was the opposite of wakefulness.

THAT was pretty much it.

Their assumption was that sleep was a homogeneous state.  It’s most salient feature was considered to be the fact that you were NOT AWAKE.  Duh!

The main side-effect of sleep deprivation, so it was believed at the time, was that you got sleepyOh my.

  • It was assumed that we needed some sort of down-time to recharge our batteries somehow.
  • There was so little curiosity about sleep, very few scientists felt that it was worthy of the time or money for research.

In the 1950s, the breaking news from one of the few sleep labs was that sleep actually consisted of two distinct states:

  1. Rapid eye movement sleep [REM], which distinguished dreaming sleep, according to what they knew at the time
  2. AND . . . the rest of it!
    (imaginatively referred to as “non-rapid eye movement sleep” [NREM])

You probably already know that REM sleep was so named because it was noticed that the eyes moved quickly back and forth under closed eyelids – rather like they might if the sleeper were speed-reading a teeny-tiny English-language book.

BRAINonSleepLooking More Closely

In rapid succession, with the advances of electro-physiological studies, new findings were announced.

These findings came about thanks to the use of technology known as an electroencephalogram [EEG].

An EEG measures the brain’s electrical activity and translates these measurements into a pictographic representation of what we now refer to as brainwaves.

With the help of measuring technology, NREM sleep revealed itself to be composed of a series of distinct stages of what was then presumed to be un-consciousness: NREM1, NREM2, NREM3 and NREM4.
(No prizes for nomenclature creativity were awarded!)

This four stage division became the standard in 1968, what is called the Rechtschaffen and Kales (R&K) standardization.

And then there were three

Almost forty years later, in 2007, non-REM sleep was reduced to three stages by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine [AASM], combining stages 3 and 4. You will still see both classification systems in internet articles and older books.

My personal belief is that R&K Stage-4 sleep, distinct from R&K Stage-3 and more specific than the AASM Stage-3, will prove to be important in research on sleep disorders — so I prefer to pay attention to non-REM sleep in the original four categories rather than the relatively recently collapsed three.

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Health, Success and Successful Sleeping


Like Driving on Empty

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

liftarn_A_person_sleeping_90x90I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead . . .
That’s how I began Sleep and Cognition, the article before this one. I went on to say:

In my hurry-up-there’s-so-much-more-to-DO experience of living, almost everything auxiliary to my current attempt to focus frequently seems like a necessary but unwelcomed interuption to what I liked to think of as “life” — as annoying as ants at a picnic. 

But I know better now where SLEEP is concerned!

The graphic below, illustrating the effects of sleep deprevation,
takes a closer look at what I meant by that assertion.

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Sleep and Cognition


Learning, Attention
& Sleep Struggles

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
From the Sleep Series

liftarn_A_person_sleeping_90x90I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead . . .

That’s how I used to think about sleeping when I was a young adult: a huge waste of time in my busy, interesting, already too little time to fit it all in LIFE.

To tell the truth, that’s how I sometimes still think about eating, bathing, going to the bathroom, in fact all of the “maintenance” activities of living.

In my hurry-up-there’s-so-much-more-to-DO experience of living, almost everything auxiliary to my current attempt to focus frequently seems like a necessary but unwelcomed interuption to what I liked to think of as “life” — as annoying as ants at a picnic.

But I know better now where SLEEP is concerned!

Sleep is a very ACTIVE state

While it seems logical to consider sleep some kind of “down time” recovery break — a time-out from our daily activities — research has shown that adequate, high-quality sleep is vital not only to optimize our daily functioning, but also to make sense of our daily activities.

Neural-housekeeping can’t be done until our brains slip into the sleep state.

  • That’s when memory consolidation takes place
  • That’s when our brains form the links to the information we need to be able to access on demand — to effectively carry out our waking tasks and determine appropriate emotional reactions to the events of our lives.

I like to think of it as the time when our brain’s sleep technicians repair shorts in our “wiring” so that we are ABLE to process effectively in our waking hours.

In an article from the National Science Foundation, neuroscientist Ken Paller says, “I think it’s fair to say that the person you are when you’re awake is partly a function of what your brain does when you’re asleep.”

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