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Stages of Sleep

The Amazing Things That Happen While You Sleep

Ever wonder what happens in your brain while you sleep? Or when dreams are most prevalent? Sleep is one of our most amazing biological functions. The sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm, affects every system in your body.

In the past, sleep was considered a passive state. A state in which the brain and body turn off to recover from stress and daily activities. Modern research shows that the brain is active during sleep, and goes through several cycles.  These cycles last approximately 90 minutes.  Within each sleep cycle we move through four stages of sleep.

The stages of Sleep

There two main types of sleep: NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement.) Both types have a direct impact on your energy levels and health.  REM is the phase of interest to the dreamer since this is the phase when the majority of dreams occur.

Let’s take a closer look at the stages of sleep.

  • NREM Stage 1  (N1) – Light sleep. Muscle activity slows. You may roll your eyes or open your eyelids. Brainwaves are transitioning from Alpha to Theta. Hypnagogia, which are mini “dreamlets” of visual and auditory hallucinations, happen in this stage. Accounts for approximately 5% of sleep.
  • NREM Stage 2 (N2)  – Breathing and heart rate slows. Theta brainwave activity. Decrease in body temperature. Approximately 50% of sleep.
  • NREM Stage 3 (N3) – Deep sleep begins. Slow Delta brainwaves. Also known as Delta sleep or slow-wave sleep (SWS.) Behaviors such as bed wetting, sleep walking, sleep talking and night terrors occur in this stage. Approx. 20-25% of sleep.
  • REM – Rapid Eye Movement. Brainwaves speed up. Breathing and heart rate are irregular. The muscles become paralyzed, a state called REM atonia. This paralysis keeps us from acting out our dreams. Most dreams occur in this stage.  Also known as “paradoxical sleep” since the brainwaves look like when you are awake. Approx 20-25% of sleep.

Sleep Cycles

These stages of sleep progress in a cycle from N1 to REM sleep, and then repeat until you wake up. The sequence generally goes n1 > n2 > n3 > N2 > n1 > REM and then repeats. An entire cycle lasts roughly 90 minutes. Most adults spend about 50 percent of their total sleep time in N2, 30 percent in other three stages, and 20 percent in REM sleep. Babies and children spend more time in delta sleep than adults do. If you wake up tired, you may not be spending enough time in REM and deep sleep.

Based on the cycle above, you will reach REM approximately every 90 minutes. REM stage duration increases with each cycle.  As you enter REM, your body temperature, respiration, and heart rate become irregular. During this stage, you may experience vivid dreams. Not getting enough REM sleep can affect your learning ability and mental focus. Babies spend up to nine hours a day in this stage. Understanding these sleep cycles and the stages within them will help your lucid dreaming practice.


You’re highly unlikely to have any lucid dreams as soon as your head hits the pillow at night. (Although you may enter REM sooner during an afternoon nap if you’re tired.)

Instead, your longest and most memorable lucid dreams will occur toward the end of the fourth and fifth sleep cycles of the night, after around six hours of sleep.”

If you have the luxury of sleeping-in most days, you’ll find you often wake up during or just after a dream has ended. This is the natural finish of a complete sleep cycle. With the dream fresh in mind, it’s much easier to remember. You’ll probably have lots of dreams to report.

-Excerpt from Rebecca Turner ‘s Lucid Dreaming Fast Track

Many things affect sleep including sleep environment, stress, diet, physical activity, medication, etc. REM sleep is more common in the later half of sleep and the duration of this stage is longer. Good information to know for your dreaming practice.

Focus should also be on getting enough sleep each night. Otherwise, you may wake up too early and miss out on that final REM stage of sleep.


meditation and lucid dreaming

Can meditation enhance your lucid dreaming practice? Let’s face it, meditation is a hot topic right now. It seems to be a common morning routine among top-performing CEOs and hot celebrities.

Meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves brain function, helps the immune system…the list goes on and on. Most of us know of it’s numerous health benefits, so it kind of seems like a no-brainer. Is there a correlation between the practices of lucid dreaming and meditation? Let’s take a look.

Ways that meditation helps with lucid dreaming:

Improves your awareness – beneficial for dream recall
Strengthens visualization skills – excellent for visualizing becoming lucid after a reality check
Calms the mind – allows you to focus
Promotes reflective thinking – important for reality checks
Improves memory – a vital skill for lucid dreaming.

No doubt, there are many more benefits. Headspace, an app for meditation; has more information about the benefits and science of meditation.

So we’ve decided that Meditation appears to be a great complementary practice to lucid dreaming. Let’s take a closer look at what it is.

So what exactly is meditation?

Meditation is defined as a state of awareness, often referred to as ‘thoughtless” awareness.

Meditation is often associated with Spiritual practices such as Buddhism, Hinduism or other religions. Having said that, there is no need of religion for anyone to do or reap the benefits of it. In fact, many top performers (business, entertainment or otherwise) incorporate some kind of meditation practice into their daily routine.

4 simple steps to get started with Meditation

  • Sit comfortably and tall.
    Sit in a position so that your back, neck and head point straight up towards the ceiling.
  • Relax your body.
    Close your eyes and mentally relax each body part one at a time. I like to begin with my head and move down toward my feet.
  • Breathe.
    Pay attention to your breath. Breath naturally and mentally follow your breathe through your nostrils and into your lungs. Don’t force your breathing or try to take really deep breaths. Some like to count “one” as they breathe in and “two” as they breathe out.
  • Calm your mind.
    As thoughts arise, acknowledge them but allow them to float away like how a cloud might drift away in the sky. Your mind will wander. When it does, bring your focus back to your breath.  Mind chatter is common and to be completely honest, this is way easier said than done. :)

It doesn’t really need to be any more complicated than what is outlined above.

Do some short sessions (2-5 minutes) and gradually work your way up to longer sessions. Practice often. Daily if possible. Don’t worry that you’re doing it wrong. Everyone tends to over-complicate the simplicity of the practice when they start. Start small. Create a tiny habit.

“The whole of meditation practice can be essentialized into these 3 crucial points: Bring your mind home. Release. And relax!” – Sogyal Rinpoche

Need help with Meditation?

Guess what – there’s an app for that. A few actually.

Personally, I like to use calm. There is both a website and iOS application that you can download. On the website you can pick different session lengths such as 2, 5,10,15 and 20 minutes. This app offers both guided (where a narrator walks you through the process) or timed options. There are different nature scenes you can pick from that add to the peacefulness of the meditation.

An alternative to the calm app is headspace.

Guided Meditations

I was recently introduced the the guided meditations of Tara Brach. She is an author and teacher of meditation and has an extensive online library of guided meditations and talks:

Meditation and lucid dreaming are complementary practices.

Once you have meditation down, you can then look at the practice of meditation while in your lucid dream….but that’s for another post.

Anamnesis – Episode 05 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Anamnesis – Episode 05 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Vera’s recurring nightmares get worse. Sean and Hannah find answers in their waking lives. Noah makes a startling decision.


An interview posted on Lucid Sage ( with the three co-founders of Finite Films, the creators of Anamnesis.

Use Momentum to remind yourself to do reality checks

As an aspiring Lucid Dreamer, you know you need to do reality checks on a consistent basis. You also know that you’ll have a better chance if you integrate these into your current daily routine.

If you’re in front of a computer like many people these days, I’ve found a tool that you can use to remind yourself to do reality checks that integrates right into your browser. It’s a free Google Chrome extension called “Momentum.” It’s marketed as a productivity tool, but you can also use it as an opportunity to remind yourself to do a reality check.

Every time you open a new browser tab, you’re inspired with a new beautiful photo that greets you by name. You can type in whatever you want to focus on for the day and it will show this item each time you open your browser. As an example of a trigger for a reality check you might focus on something like “Am I awake?”, “Am I dreaming?” or more simply “Time for a Reality Check”.

This extension shows the time, weather, an inspirational quote and contains a simple todo list application as well.

Did I mention that the interface is laid over some of the most inspiring photographs of nature? A recent study suggests that just looking at nature can help your brain work better. Give it a shot and let us know if it helps your lucid dreaming endeavors.

Download and use Momentum to remind yourself to do reality checks. Available on the Google Chrome Store.

Anamnesis – Episode 04 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Anamnesis – Episode 04 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Vera takes the detective’s investigation into her own hands. Sean searches for Noah in the dream world. #AreYouAwake

Watch the short that inspired the web series:

The Nightmare – a documentary about Sleep Paralysis

Just came across this trailer for The Nightmare – a documentary about Sleep Paralysis. A subject we know can be really creepy and scary.

From the trailer, it looks to be a visual treat.

Documentary Synopsis

The documentary focuses on eight people suffering from sleep paralysis, a phenomenon where people find themselves temporarily unable to move, speak, or react to anything while they are falling asleep or awakening. Occasionally this paralysis will be accompanied by physical experiences or hallucinations that have the potential to terrify the individual. In the film Ascher interviews each participant and then tries to re-create their experiences on film with professional actors. – Wikipedia

What is sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which a person, either falling asleep or awakening, temporarily experiences an inability to move, speak, or react. It is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, characterized by complete muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It is often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations (such as an intruder in the room) to which one is unable to react due to paralysis, and physical experiences (such as strong current running through the upper body). One hypothesis is that it results from disrupted REM sleep, which normally induces complete muscle atonia to prevent sleepers from acting out their dreams. Sleep paralysis has been linked to disorders such as narcolepsy, migraines, anxiety disorders, and obstructive sleep apnea; however, it can also occur in isolation. – Wikipedia

It appears that The Nightmare will be in Theaters June 5th.

Here’s a review from the guardian.

Dream Journal

The Dream Journal is one of most important tools for the lucid dreaming. It’s your personal log of the the dream world. Keep it close (within reach) of your bed and make an effort to write in it immediately after you wake up.

I saw a tweet that said a your dream journal should be the first and last thing you see every day. I completely agree with this. A dream journal reinforces the fact that you want to have a lucid dream. I go to sleep with the intention that I will record that night’s dream when I awake. The process of using a journal will help you to naturally remember your dreams.

Experts say that people typically forget more than 50 percent of their dreams within 5 minutes of waking up. Within ten minutes, 90 percent is lost. This is why it’s important not only for you to write down your dreams, but also to do so as soon as you wake up. “
–From the book A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming. Buy it on Amazon.

Here are the things I typically note in my dream journal:

1. Date of the dream
2. Was the dream lucid?
3. Dream Signs
4. Emotion of the dream
5. Description of the dream
6. Dream Title – This is something new I’m trying to help me search through my journal and label my dreams.

Q: How descriptive should the dream journal be?
A: A good idea is to capture keywords…especially when you are first starting out. This isn’t about creative writing, it’s about capturing the essence of the dream. Over time your entries will become more descriptive.

Q: What are Dream Signs?
Dream signs are recurring dream elements that show up in your dreams. Soon you’ll recognize these signs that they will become triggers that alert you that you are dreaming.

Q: Should I use a regular journal or a computer or tablet?
Do what works for you, but my preference is to use pen and paper.

What tips do you have when using a dream journal?


References in this post:
Book: A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming.

Anamnesis – Episode 03 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Anamnesis – Episode 03 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Sean fantasizes about Hannah in his lucid dreams. Detective Isaac Sterling pays Vera an unwelcome visit. #AreYouAwake

How to Control Your Dreams Infographic

Awesome “How to Control your Dreams” Infographic with some great information on it.

How to control your dreams infographic.

Anamnesis – Episode 02 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Anamnesis – Episode 02 – Lucid Dreaming Web Series

Sean’s waking life can’t compare to the freedom of his lucid dreams. Hannah confides in her therapist. Noah’s sense of reality begins to unravel.