The Art of Scientific Sleep

To sleep is to follow the laws of natural science but to sleep the right way is an art that only the wise can master.
Given that this is not the subject of deliberation for this article and optimistic that it was an explanation enough for the title, I might as well dive straight into the topic at hand.

By virtue of being human, our body demands us to have some basic understanding of its standard sleep architecture. Human sleep comprises of four cyclical stages. The first three stages fall under the category of Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (NREM) and the last stage of a sleep cycle is referred to as Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM). Each stage of a sleep cycle marks a transition in the brainwave frequency & amplitude, ocular movements, and muscle physiology as traced on an EEG.

Stage I begins within minutes of lying down and lasts only a few minutes. During this stage, the body processes serotonin to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, and can also witness Hypnic jerks.

Consequently, as one progresses into relatively deeper Stage II, the eye movement drops, muscle fibers relax and a unique pattern of brain waves called sleep spindle(s) is formed which helps in memory consolidation. K complexes coordinate the sleep sync. This stage lasts for about 10 – 25 minutes and comprises around half of our sleep.

Stage III (slow-wave sleep or delta sleep), the deepest of all stages encompasses the development of Sleep Inertia. During this stage, even sound waves >100 decibels cannot usually wake the person up & in case they do, one might suffer from brain fog for as long as an hour after waking up. This stage stimulates Human Growth Hormone (HGH) secretion and recovery of tissues.

Stage IV (REM sleep), the lightest sleep consists of frequent ocular movement, vivid dreaming, and crucial cognitive functions like memory, learning, and creativity.


An average sleep cycle lasts for around 90 minutes meaning our total sleep duration (in minutes) should be in multiples of 90. More often than not, 4 – 6 such cycles (6 – 9 hrs) are considered normal. This will ensure that you do not wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle and thus, will have you feeling refreshed after waking up.

Since Stage III encompasses sleep inertia, the perfect napping etiquette (like Siesta Culture of the Mediterranean) suggests that a daytime nap should not last for more than 15 – 20 minutes.

The secretion of melatonin is regulated by the SCN in the hypothalamus which respond to light exposure. Therefore, it becomes mandatory to develop consistent sleep hygiene by shutting off all sources of artificial light at least an hour or two before sleeping that otherwise trick your brain to think it’s still daytime.

Since the days get shorter after the summer solstice on June 21 till December 21, the human body requires relatively more sleep in winter than in summer.

Problems in falling asleep can be effectively managed by stimulating melatonin secretion through a diet rich in tryptophan, avoiding daytime sleeping to reserve the sleep pressure for the night, and by fixing the sleep-wake schedule.

Hence confirmed, it is not too bad an idea to listen to our elders when they say that most of our problems are due to erratic sleep-wake patterns.

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