The Sleep Cycle
The Interpretation of Dreams

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The Sleep Cycle

Thanks to these dream research pioneers, we now know that there is a regular cycle of sleeping and dreaming during each period of sleep. For most of us, a night of sleep begins with the usual rituals: checking to see if the front door is locked, turning out the lights, brushing the teeth, washing the facewhatever we have become accustomed to doing night after night. We change or remove our clothes. We get into bed, usually on the same side. Then it's lights out, and we lie in wait for the magic calm of sleep to overtake us. Sleep comes in an instant: One second you are awake, the next you are asleep. Here's what happens in the minutes preceding that fateful second in which you drop off. First, your body temperature drops. Your eyes close, and your brain waves begin regular alpha rhythms, indicating a relaxed state. Soon, Stage One sleep begins, as your muscles lose their tension, your breathing becomes more even, and your heart rate slows. A few minutes later, Stage Two sleep begins, and random or nonsensical images may float through your mind, mimicking the dream state. Occasionally, you may become alert enough to interrupt these hypnogogic dreams, or dreamlets. Resistance to falling asleep sometimes registers in these snippetsthe myoclonic jerk, for example, that jolts you back to wakefulness, or the occasional involuntary movement or twitching you sometimes see in both humans and animals. In time, you'll float on into Stage Three sleep. Your body continues its slowdown process: Muscles lose all tightness, breaths come slowly and rhythmically, heart rate decreases, blood pressure falls. At this point, it would take a loud noise or other disturbance to pull you from your slumber. You are fully asleep. Think of Stage Four sleep as deep sleep. If you do awaken from this type of sleep, you may well feel "fuzzy" or disoriented for a few minutes. Stage Four is considered to be the most physically restful period of sleep, and it is the longest in duration.

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