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The Complete Guide to Sleep Stages : Deep, Light, and REM Sleep

Understanding the Different Stages of Sleep

Sleep is divided into two main categories: Non-REM (NREM) sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. These categories are further divided into different stages. The sleep stages are as follows: (1,2)

Non-REM Sleep: (3)

  • Stage N1: This is the lightest stage of sleep, where the transition from wakefulness to sleep occurs. It is characterized by slowed eye movements and reduced muscle activity. People in this stage may experience sudden muscle contractions or brief periods of wakefulness.
  • Stage N2: In this stage, the body continues to relax, and brain activity slows down. It is a deeper stage of sleep than N1, and it accounts for a significant portion of total sleep time.
  • Stage N3: Also known as slow-wave sleep or deep sleep, this stage is characterized by slow brain waves called delta waves. It is the most restorative stage of sleep, where the body repairs and regenerates tissues, and important hormones are released.

REM Sleep: (4)

REM Sleep: Rapid Eye Movement sleep is a unique stage characterized by rapid eye movements, increased brain activity, and vivid dreaming. During REM sleep, the brain becomes more active, similar to when awake, and the body’s muscles are temporarily paralyzed, preventing us from acting out our dreams.

Throughout the night, a typical sleep cycle progresses through these stages in a repetitive pattern, with NREM sleep stages preceding REM sleep. NREM sleep is subdivided into three stages:

  1. Light sleep (N1)
  2. Deep sleep (N2)
  3. Deeper sleep (N3)

A complete sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 to 120 minutes, and most adults experience multiple cycles during a typical night’s sleep. During a typical night’s sleep, a person cycles through these stages approximately four to five times. The sleep stages follow a specific sequence: N1, N2, N3, N2, and REM. Each cycle lasts for about 90 to 110 minutes. The initial REM stage is relatively short, but as the sleep progresses, subsequent REM stages become longer in comparison to NREM stages.

The proportion of time spent in each stage of sleep can vary depending on factors such as age, sleep quality, and individual sleep patterns.

Optimal Amount of Deep Sleep

The amount of deep sleep a person needs can vary depending on factors such as age, overall health, and individual differences. On average, most adults require about 1.5 to 2 hours of deep sleep per night. Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep or Stage N3 of NREM sleep, is essential for physical restoration and repair. It plays a vital role in promoting muscle growth and repair, hormone regulation, and immune system functioning.(1)

However, as you age, the need for deep sleep diminishes, and you will start to spend more time in Stage N2 of NREM sleep.

It is important to realize that during deep sleep, many vital functions occur, including muscle relaxation, increased blood supply to the muscles, slowed heart rate and breathing, tissue growth and repair, and the release of essential hormones. These processes are crucial for overall health and well-being. Without sufficient deep sleep, these functions cannot occur optimally, leading to potential symptoms of sleep deprivation. This is why prioritizing deep sleep is essential to support the body’s vital restorative processes and ensure a well-rested and rejuvenated state.(5)

Optimal Amount of REM Sleep

The amount of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep needed can vary depending on age and individual factors. REM sleep is crucial for cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional processing. This stage of sleep is especially significant for dreaming, and experts believe that dreaming helps a person process emotions. On average, adults spend about 20-25 percent of their total sleep time in REM sleep. For most adults, this amounts to approximately 90-120 minutes of REM sleep per night.(6,7)

However, REM sleep usually tends to be more predominant during the later cycles of sleep. Infants and young children typically spend a higher percentage of their sleep time in REM sleep, while it gradually decreases as they age.

Optimal Amount of Light Sleep

The amount of light sleep, also known as Stage N1 and N2 of NREM sleep, needed can vary depending on factors such as age, lifestyle, and individual differences. On average, adults spend about 50-60 percent of their total sleep time in light sleep. For most adults, this amounts to approximately three to four hours of light sleep per night.(8)

Light sleep is essential for facilitating the transition between wakefulness and deeper sleep stages. It plays a role in memory consolidation, learning, and preparing the brain and body for the deeper restorative stages of sleep. While deep sleep and REM sleep are crucial for specific physiological functions, light sleep serves as a bridge that enables a smooth progression through the different stages of the sleep cycle.

Optimal Amounts of Deep, Light and REM Sleep for Children

The amount of deep, REM, and light sleep that children need varies based on their age. Sleep is crucial for children’s growth, development, and overall well-being. The following are approximate guidelines for the distribution of sleep stages in children:(9)

Deep Sleep (N3, Slow-wave sleep):

  • Infants (0-12 months): 12-16 hours (about 20-25% of total sleep time)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (about 25% of total sleep time)
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours (about 20% of total sleep time)
  • School-age children (6-12 years): 9-12 hours (about 20% of total sleep time)

REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep):

  • REM sleep accounts for about 20-25% of total sleep time in all age groups, including children.

Light Sleep (N1 and N2):

  • The remaining percentage of sleep time is typically spent in light sleep (Stage N1 and N2). The exact percentage can vary but generally decreases with age as children spend more time in deep sleep.

Remember that some children may naturally require more or less sleep in specific stages, and factors such as activity level, growth spurts, and overall health can influence sleep requirements.

Tips to Get More Deep Sleep

Getting sufficient deep sleep is crucial for overall health and well-being. If you are looking to improve the amount of deep sleep you get, here are some tips that may help:

  • Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Establishing a regular sleep schedule helps regulate your body’s internal clock and promotes deeper sleep.
  • Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Develop a calming pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it is time to wind down. Activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques can help prepare your mind and body for sleep.
  • Limit Screen Time before Bed: Reduce exposure to screens (phones, tablets, computers, and TVs) at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Avoid Consuming Stimulants: Limit caffeine and nicotine intake, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime, as they can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Engage in Regular Physical Activity: Regular exercise can contribute to better sleep quality, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it may interfere with falling asleep.


Achieving optimal amounts of deep, light, and REM sleep is crucial for overall well-being. Each stage plays a vital role in physical restoration, cognitive function, and emotional processing. Prioritizing quality sleep and adopting healthy sleep habits are essential for promoting better health and enhancing overall quality of life. Consulting with a healthcare professional or sleep specialist can offer valuable guidance for optimizing sleep patterns.


  1. Patel, A.K., Reddy, V. and Araujo, J.F., 2022. Physiology, sleep stages. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  2. Carskadon, M.A. and Dement, W.C., 2005. Normal human sleep: an overview. Principles and practice of sleep medicine, 4(1), pp.13-23.
  3. De Andrés, I.T., Garzón, M. and Reinoso-Suárez, F., 2011. Functional anatomy of non-REM sleep. Frontiers in neurology, 2, p.70.
  4. Peever, J. and Fuller, P.M., 2017. The biology of REM sleep. Current biology, 27(22), pp.R1237-R1248.
  5. What happens during sleep? (no date) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Available at: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/sleep/conditioninfo/what-happens (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
  6. Brain basics: Understanding sleep (no date) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/public-education/brain-basics/brain-basics-understanding-sleep#5 (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
  7. Tubbs, A.S., Dollish, H.K., Fernandez, F. and Grandner, M.A., 2019. The basics of sleep physiology and behavior. In Sleep and health (pp. 3-10). Academic Press.
  8. Dijk, D.J. and Archer, S.N., 2009. Light, sleep, and circadian rhythms: together again. PLoS biology, 7(6), p.e1000145.
  9. How much sleep do I need? (2022) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html (Accessed: 02 August 2023).
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 13, 2023

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