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Which of the Different Stages of Sleep Causes Snoring?

Sleep is a phase of the body’s daily rhythm, which is based on a 24 hour cycle. There are various stages of sleep, each with its own characteristics. The different stages of sleep flow easily from one to another and a person normally moves back and forth between them throughout the night.

The first stage is dozing off, the next is light sleep, then comes deep sleep, and finally REM sleep. These stages will be explained in more detail below.

If you sleep for 8 hours a day, you will on average get 2 hours of deep sleep, 2 hours of REM sleep and 4 hours of light sleep. The sleep stages replace each other in phases of approximately 1.5 hours, and most people repeat it 4-6 times during the night. During the REM phase of sleep, intense activity occurs on the brain, and dreams are much more frequent and vivid than in the other phases.

Quality of sleep is divided in to two types. The subjective sleep quality is the feeling of being rested and having had a good night’s sleep. The more scientific, objective quality of sleep is determined by measuring the different phases. How long a person is in the deep stages of sleep and number of times they wake up during the night is especially considered.


You need all four stages of sleep, again and again. It is not possible to cheat and skip the lighter phases, although scientists say that the more tired you are, the more you will get out of your sleep.


Stage 1- Dozing Off

This stage is sometimes referred to as somnolence or drowsy sleep.

stages of sleepYour eyes close and your body finds peace under the covers. In this stage you doze off and wait for dreams to come. There is still a long way to dreamland, however. First of all, brain waves need to undergo a full sleep cycle. Dreams are to be found at the end of this, in the last stage: the REM sleep.

This first phase is a transitional one, where 50% of people will say “but I was awake when you woke me up!” while the remaining 50% will say “no, I was sleeping” if awoken and asked “are you awake?”

When we transition from drowsy sleep to actual sleep, brain waves change from alpha waves to theta waves. Electrical currents in the brain fall from 8-12 hertz to 4-7 hertz.

Muscles in your body become relaxed and you might experience small, involuntary kicks and jerks of your limbs. These movements are most likely caused by the body having a hard time controlling the transition from being tense and awake to being completely relaxed.

This first sleep phase is usually quite short and after 5-10 minutes, you start slipping into the second phase of sleep. When we are there, there is no doubt about it: sleep has come.

Stage 2 – More than Sleepy

stages of sleepIn this stage of sleep people will always answer ”I’m sleeping” when asked if they are awake. Brain waves start showing characteristic signs of sleep. Although the sleep is still light, they slow down and EEG measurements show softer and larger fluctuations. The so-called sleeps spindles occur every once in a while. These spindles are bursts of brain activity that helps keeping us asleep. 

When shown on an EEG device they appear like small earth quakes. Sleep spindles are sometimes referred to as sigma bands or sigma waves. These are the most common characteristic sign of the onset of stage 2 sleep, along with K-complexes, which suppress cortical arousal in response to stimuli.

During the second stage of sleep a person no longer has any connection to their consciousness. In adult people the second stage takes up approximately half of the night’s sleep.

Stage 3 – The Deepest Calm

stages of sleepThe third phase of sleep is the deep sleep. Brain waves are very slow, and delta waves of 1-2 Hertz occur. This is where you truly sleep and your body regenerates.

It is during this stage that a person may sleep walk, talk in their sleep or wet their bed. Awoken from this stage, people will feel extremely tired and drowsy. Waking up not knowing where you are is common. It is also much harder to wake a person up from this stage, and the brain will work on half power for about ½ an hour after awakening.

Sometimes people claim that they can slip directly into this stage of sleep, for example parents with infants and elite soldiers. 

The reason is that when you are tired you sleep better, and are closer to the later stages of sleep from the beginning. These people simply utilize their sleep better and achieve true sleep more quickly.

Stage 4 – Only In Your Dreams

 REM – rapid eye movement - is the most well-known stage of sleep and where the most vivid dreams occur.

stages of sleepThe first three stages of sleep are also referred to as N-REM- non rapid eye movement. REM is significantly different from the other stages, in that the eyes move back and forth, and brain waves are more similar to those of a waken person than those of the other sleep stages. 

The stage is also known as paradoxical sleep, since the brain seems to be awake in a sleeping body. It is easy to wake up from REM sleep, which is why it is so common to wake up during a vivid dream.

This dreamy stage normally accounts for 20- 25% of a night’s sleep in adults.


When you have gone through all four stages the cycle stars over. Dreams stop in the REM stage and you return to the first stage. The sleep cycles have almost the same length during the night. The different stages, however, change in character and length. After the first cycle, the deep, pleasant sleep stages are shorter and the REM stage becomes longer. Towards the end of the night the REM sleep takes up most of the cycle and the deep sleep is pretty much over.


Phases of Sleep and Snoring

  • Snoring associated with sleep apnea occurs less in stage 3
  • Ordinary snoring occurs most in stage 3, but is also likely to occur in stages 1 & 2
  • Ordinary snoring does not normally occur in the REM stage
  • Snoring associated with sleep apnea is more frequent in the REM stage

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