February 15, 2020


A pearl diver must go down deeper and deeper through the water until they reach the sea bed where the pearls are, there’s no shortcut. Deep restorative sleep is like a pearl on the sea bed, you can’t get it unless you go through three lighter stages of sleep first, there’s no shortcut.


When we fall asleep we must first pass through the lighter stages of sleep, stages 1, 2 and 3, before reaching stage 4 - REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). Stages 1, 2 and 3 are lighter sleep than REM sleep and do not restore the body, or leave you refreshed, as much as deep REM sleep. The complete cycle of four stages takes an average 90 to 110 minutes, with each stage lasting between 5 to 15 minutes. The cycle resumes again starting with periods of stage 1, 2 & 3 before returning to REM for longer periods of time as sleep continues.


Stage 1 -is the lightest stage of NREM sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement), when you are drifting off to sleep, also known as alpha sleep.  Slow eye movements might appear and this drowsy sleep stage can be easily disrupted causing awakenings or arousals. Muscle tone throughout the body relaxes and brain wave activity begins to slow.

Stage 2 - the next deeper stage of sleep. Eye movements and brain waves begin to slow down. Lasting for longer periods than stage 1, comprising approximately 40-60% of total sleep time.

Stage 3- next in the progression is when brain waves slow to what are known as delta waves and it becomes harder to wake up. In stage 3, you may sleep through noises, but if you are wakened you’ll feel groggy. This stage does not last as long as stage 2, lasting between 5-15% of total time asleep for most adults. 

Stage 4- known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is the deepest level of sleep. In the REM period, breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow, eyes jerk rapidly and limb muscles are temporarily paralysed. Brain waves during this stage increase to levels experienced when a person is awake. Also, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and the body loses some of the ability to regulate its temperature. 


Reaching REM is crucial for the body’s cells to restore and for the brain to eliminate all the toxins accumulated during time awake. During deep sleep, human growth hormone is released and restores your body and muscles from the stresses of the day. Your immune system also restores itself. If woken prematurely from completing the REM period a person can experience a period of sleep inertia whereby a heightened sensation of sleepiness can occur for several minutes or even several hours. Accumulating time in several periods of deep REM sleep is critical to getting a good, restorative sleep every night so the secret is to avoid being disturbed, which will bring you back to stage 1. A person should typically experience three to five REM periods throughout sleep time, with the longest REM period before awakening for the day.


People suffering from sleep-disordered breathing issues such as snoring or sleep apnea may experience very shallow breathing or their breathing will stop, sometimes hundreds of times a night and they may never reach stage 4 REM, the deepest stage of sleep. There are many things that will keep you from getting sufficient deep sleep to stay healthy and alert during the day, barking dogs, snoring, doors banging, windows rattling etc. but what many people don’t know is that mouth breathing disrupts sleep more than anything except stress.

Sleep studies have found that breathing through your mouth instead of your nose will impact your sleep and cause other unpleasant conditions such as snoring, dry mouth, sleep- apnea, sinus and nasal congestion.

 Just like the pearl diver who must return again and again to the sea bed to find pearls, we must return several times each night to REM sleep to find deep, restful sleep.

Updated 15 February 2020 

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