The Stages of Sleep

Each and every night, your brain passes through four stages of sleep. Passing through all these stages takes about 90-110 minutes and marks one full sleep cycle. So, if you sleep soundly for eight hours per night, you're getting five full sleep cycles.

The Stages of Sleep

The Stages of Sleep

Let's take a closer look at the four* stages of sleep:

  • NREM Stage 1 is a light sleep and you are easily woken. You begin to lose muscle tone, causing twitches and hypnic jerks (suddenly jumping awake from a doze). You have hypnagogic hallucinations, swirling light and color patterns which hypnotize your mind into a restful sleep. Stage 1 also marks the loss of self-awareness and most sensory attachment to the physical world. Your brainwave frequencies descend from Alpha through Theta state (4-7 Hz).
  • NREM Stage 2 is marked by a loss of nearly all muscle tone so your physical body can't act out your forthcoming dreams. Although your brainwaves have slowed further, they do show brief bursts of higher brainwave activity called sleep spindles and K-complexes. You spend around half of all your sleep in Stage 2; a light dreamless sleep.
  • NREM Stage 3 (*and 4, as these stages have now been merged together) is also called slow-wave sleep (SWS), consisting of unconscious delta activity. The sleeper is less responsive to the environment and most stimuli cause no reaction. If you are woken you will feel especially dopey and confused for a couple of minutes. Another dreamless stage of sleep, it is (perhaps surprisingly) the most likely time for sleepwalking to occur.
  • REM marks the onset of dreaming. This stage is also known as paradoxical sleep because the sleeper, though showing more active brainwaves than before, is harder to awaken. If you are awoken from REM sleep you are more likely to jump right back in during a later nap. Though its functions are not fully understood, we do know that REM deprivation impairs our ability to learn complex tasks and form long term memories.

When is The Best Time for Lucid Dreaming?

Your longest and most memorable lucid dreams will usually occur in the fourth and fifth sleep cycles (after about six hours of sleep) during phases of REM sleep. Critically, during these later sleep cycles, periods of REM sleep become longer.

The Stages of REM Sleep

The graph shows REM sleep occurring at the end of each sleep cycle. This is your most memorable dream time, occuring at the end of each sleep cycle.

If you don't wake up to an alarm, you'll find you often wake directly from a dream, which makes it much easier to remember. When this happens - don't move. Just allow yourself to gently re-enter the dream, while thinking "I'm dreaming".

This graph also shows how it's essential for lucid dreamers to get sufficient shuteye and not miss out on REM sleep by cutting sleep short. Indeed, the more chances you have to sleep in, the better. Sleeping-in allows extended REM time in the morning, more vivid dreams, and more chances to become lucid.

How Much Sleep Does The Average Person Need?

When you're deciding how many hours to sleep each night, also consider how many sleep cycles that will give you. It's a rough science without brainwave monitoring equipment but you can see how a 7-hour sleep might wake you up in the middle of your fifth sleep cycle, if each lasts only 90 minutes. This would cut your sleep short and prevent your fifth final REM phase. It's much healthier to wake up after the cycle is complete which is what happens without an alarm.

Do you repeatedly wake up "on the wrong side of the bed" each morning? It's likely your alarm clock is interrupting your final sleep cycle at a crucial point. If you can, allow yourself to wake up naturally each morning. Otherwise, go to bed earlier and give yourself the extra minutes needed to complete the cycle.

So, how many sleep cycles should you aim for each night? Four? Five? Six? It seems that the amount of sleep required differs from person to person, however as a rough guide experts have come up with the following daily sleep guide based on age:

  • Newborns - Up to 18 hours or 12 sleep cycles
  • Babies 1-12 months - 14-18 hours or 9-12 sleep cycles
  • Children 1-3 years - 12-15 hours or 8-10 sleep cycles
  • Children 3-5 years - 11-13 hours or 7-8 sleep cycles
  • Children 5-12 years - 9-11 hours or 6-7 sleep cycles
  • Adolescents - 9-10 hours or 6 sleep cycles
  • Adults - 7-8 hours or 4-5 sleep cycles
  • Pregnant Women - 8+ hours or 5+ sleep cycles

How Long Do Dreams Last?

We can measure the length of dream time using an EEG machine which reads brainwave activity. Dreams are directly correlated to REM sleep - to the extent that your eyes can move and track in the same direction you are looking in the dream.

The brainwave readings tell us that REM sleep at the end of the first sleep cycle lasts only a few minutes. Much of the first cycle is dedicated to non-REM sleep, driven by the need for physical rest. So, these early dreams are often fleeting. You are unlikely to remember them and they're unlikely to yield lucid dreams.

As you sleep on through the night, your REM phases grow longer in each sleep cycle. By morning, your fourth or fifth sleep cycle (ending when you wake up for the day) may allow for 45-60 minutes of uninterrupted REM sleep. It's perfect for lucid dreaming.

"My dream lasted a lifetime!"

Every now and then I hear an urban myth about lucid dreaming that someone had a dream that encompassed an entire lifetime.

I've had such dreams, while taking the dream herb, Calea Z. Time seemed to stretch and I felt like I was in this dream for years. But as vivid as the dream was, I didn't literally experience those years, minute-for-minute. It was more like watching an epic movie that spans 200 years in the space of two hours, yet you feel like you were there longer.

Generally, the timeframe of regular dreams are in line with reality. However it's always difficult to judge the length of a dream from the first-hand perspective of dreaming it. Whether you're lucid or not, time can be distorted in dreams - and there are few "constants" against which you can measure the passing of dream events.

So, if you feel a dream lasted for days or years, it's just your perception of events in the dream that made it seem to last so long. I don't believe that such dreams - however mind-blowing in their realism and adventure - are comparable to the experience of real time passing in the waking world.

This also means you can't get "stuck" in dream limbo for 70 years ;)

How Long Do Lucid Dreams Last?

Like regular dreams, lucid dreams can last anywhere from a few seconds up to an hour (and possibly even more). For me, a typical lucid dream lasts 10-20 minutes.

Most beginners find their lucid dream collapses within a few seconds because the emotions of becoming lucid are so overwhelming. However with a few simple dream stabilization methods, you can massively prolong your lucid dreams.

As soon as I learned how to prolong my lucid dreams, it opened up a world of possibilities. My dream world posed a new adventure playground, in which I could travel anywhere and do anything I wanted to with complete clarity and awareness. What's more, these stabilization techniques serve to enhance the dream clarity and my ability to control it, while preventing me from waking up prematurely.

For step-by-step tutorials on lucid dream induction and exploration, check out The Lucid Dreaming Fast Track, my online study program for beginners and beyond.

Learn how to control your dreams.

Start now
About The Author

About the author

Rebecca Turner is the founder and editor of World of Lucid Dreaming, where she offers valuable first-hand advice and tutorials. Learn more about her here and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and her Lucid Dreaming Forum.

10 Steps to Lucid Dreams

Receive free lucid dreaming tutorials

I'll show you how to develop a lucid night life and use it to improve your waking world with my 10 Steps to Lucid Dreams. More than 30,000 people have already subscribed.