“Sleep like a rock” is a good thing to experience if it means you get beautiful, seemingly uninterrupted sleep for eight or so hours and wake up totally refreshed to face the next day.
But even if you are a rock of a sleeper, your actual sleep architecture — the phases and the experiences you undergo while you’re out — is far from being without movement, so to speak. A good night’s sleep is characterized by a pattern, or stages of sleep that repeat themselves.
In fact, each person generally goes through four to six repetitive nightly phases of 90 minutes each, alternating between deep restorative sleep and more alert dreaming phases. Dreamy sleep (when you’re more awake) is called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is different from deep, or non-REM sleep, when you’re really far from being awake, and thus in “deep sleep.”
Even though you go through these 90-minute phases several times during the night, the composition of the phases change. During the first half of your sleeping experience, the deep sleep tends to last longer, while in the second half the REM or dreamy phase (just below wakefulness) tends to consume more of the 90-minute block. That’s why you may awake in the morning recalling a dream or two because in that second half of your nighttime sleep architecture, REM is more predominant.
Some sleep professionals advise people to set their alarm clocks to coincide with multiples of these 90-minute cycles. For instance, if you retire at 10 p.m., set your alarm clock for 5:30 a.m. to awake you at the end of a 90-minute phase.
Of course, this advice assumes that you’re a normal sleeper, and studies have shown that perhaps as many as half of all Americans have sleep difficulties or even sleep disorders. Even getting up in the middle of the night because you hear a noise or need to go to the bathroom can completely upset your sleep architecture.
If you’re not enjoying restorative sleep, the first step is to look at your sleep hygiene. If adopting good sleep hygiene doesn’t help, then it’s time to at least discuss the situation with your doctor.
Better yet, if you know you’re a chronic snorer or suspect you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), or even mild sleep apnea, you may want to sign up for a sleep evaluation with a professional service such as The Snoring Center. In any case, don’t forfeit your days because your nights aren’t what they should be. Help is at hand.