Sleep 101

The basics of sleep stages, cycles, and the importance of quality sleep.

Sleep is a dynamic physiological process that plays a vital role in our overall well-being. It consists of five distinct phases, which together create a 'sleep cycle.' Each of these phases serves a specific purpose in the rejuvenation and restoration of our body and mind. Your brain cycles through these sleep phases approximately every 90 minutes, forming what we call a 'sleep cycle.' A healthy individual typically requires 35 full sleep cycles every week to function optimally, which equates to approximately 7.5 hours of sleep per night.

Each of the five sleep phases plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health:

  1. Stage 1 (N1) - Light sleep: This phase is characterized by the transition from wakefulness to sleep. It is a relatively short stage, usually lasting only a few minutes. During this stage, muscle activity and eye movements begin to slow down.
  2. Stage 2 (N2) - Deeper sleep: In this phase, our body temperature drops, heart rate and breathing become more regular, and eye movements cease. This stage makes up approximately 50% of our total sleep time and is crucial for the restoration of our energy and cognitive function.
  3. Stage 3 (N3) - Deep sleep: This is the most restorative phase of sleep, during which our body repairs and grows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. It is essential for physical recovery and overall health.
  4. Stage 4 (N4) - Deepest sleep: This stage is often considered an extension of stage 3 and is characterized by the slowest brain waves (delta waves). During this phase, our body continues to restore and rejuvenate itself, and it can be challenging to wake up from this stage.
  5. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep: REM sleep is the phase in which we dream. It is characterized by increased brain activity, rapid eye movement, and muscle relaxation. This stage is vital for memory consolidation and emotional processing.

Sleeping with pain

As someone living with pain, whether it is acute or chronic, your sleep needs may be slightly different. Pain can interfere with the quality and duration of your sleep, causing you to experience difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or achieving restorative sleep. Consequently, you may require additional sleep to compensate for these disruptions and support your body's healing and recovery process. In this context, we suggest you aim for eight to nine hours of sleep per night, particularly if you are managing a complex or chronic pain condition.


Knowing whether you have clinical insomnia is important, as it may change our recommendations for improving your sleep. To be diagnosed with insomnia, you must meet the following criteria:

The Rule of 3s

It must take you 30 minutes or more to fall asleep, or you must wake up three or more times per night. This must happen at least three times per week for more than three weeks in a row. If you meet the criteria, please inform your practitioners during your next appointment. Insomnia is a medical condition, and your doctors will provide the support you need to manage it effectively.

A Note to Insomniacs

Like persistent pain, persistent insomnia can be exhausting – in every sense of the word. We understand and empathize deeply with the frustration and hopelessness you may be feeling. But, we also urge you not to give up hope. When it comes to insomnia, there is no shortage of options – even for the most serious cases.

However, there is a catch. You must make sleep a priority in your life. For most people, near enough is good enough. A late night here or there makes little difference. A noisy environment goes unnoticed. And a few drinks with friends never require a second thought. But – as you likely know well – this is not the case for more serious insomniacs. In our experience, it's extremely difficult to achieve consistent improvements without reprogramming your brain's sleep behaviors. We do this by maintaining a consistent, multifaceted sleep routine tailored to you and your lifestyle.

It may take some time to find exactly what works best for you, and we acknowledge that it may require some short-term sacrifices. However, if you stay the course, the improvements you see will be well worth your efforts. Not only will your sleep improve, but so will your pain, your mood, your relationships, and your overall quality of life.