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How sleep works

When we go to sleep, our body goes through four stages

Stage 1:

The first stage (also known as N1) is when you fall asleep and generally lasts around a few minutes. In this stage, your body will begin to relax and your body and brain activities start to slow down as you fall into a light sleep.

Stage 2:

During stage 2 (also known as N2) the body relaxes fully, temperature drops, heartbeat and brain activity slow down and the body may twitch or jerk as it is relaxing into its light sleep.

Stage 3:

This is where your body enters a deep sleep (also known as N3). This stage allows the body to recover; the healing, growth, and muscle and immune system restoration happens. This is also where experiences get stored into long term memory.

Stage 4:

The final stage is known as REM. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. During this stage, your sleep won’t be as deep as stage 3. The muscles are paralysed and the eye are moving fast as we are dreaming. Dreams are necessary for emotional regulation, memory keeping and learning. Everyone dreams multiple times a night, usually at the end of each sleep cycle but we only tend to remember the dreams early in the morning as we are more likely to be woken up then.


These stages are known as the sleep cycle.

Everyone sleeps, even if it’s just a little bit. Those who struggle with insomnia may sleep less than before but they still get some amount of sleep. Deep sleep is essential for survival and our bodies prioritise it. That’s why we tend to get more deep sleep during the first part of the night.

It is normal to wake up during the night. Most people wake up an average of between 6-8 times and don’t remember. People with sleep difficulties may struggle to fall asleep and wake up easily. If you do wake up in the night, it’s important to know it’s normal and not panic otherwise your body will produce adrenaline and that makes it even harder to fall back to sleep. If you do wake up, it’s important to redirect your thoughts onto something relaxing. Click here for 8 ways to retrain your brain to sleep.

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your school nurse.

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