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What is Productive vs. Perceived Sleep?

At one time or another, we’ve all experienced it. We fit in a reasonable amount of sleep and still wake up feeling like we haven’t slept at all.

So what’s going on?

Well, simply put, you’re not getting enough sleep. And even when you think you’re sleeping, you might not be.


Research shows slows productive sleep requires completion of several sleep cycles. Each cycle is made up of five stages:

  • Stage 1 is the sleep phase you experience within the first 5 to 10 minutes of falling asleep. This is when people are commonly jerked awake by a sensation of falling.
  • With stage 2, the body prepares for deep sleep. The heart rate slows, body temperature drops, and muscles relax.
  • Stages 3 and 4 are when deep sleep occurs with stage 4 deeper than stage 3. This is when it’s hardest to wake people up, and if they do wake up, they often feel confused and disoriented.

If you wake up in the middle of any of these stages, the sleep cycle is broken. You may get a large percentage of non rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), which occurs during the first four stages, but you fail to reach the fifth rapid eye movement (REM) or dream phase. Research suggests this may be sleep’s most important phase.

People who wake up still feeling sluggish after a full night’s rest may not realize all the sleep disruptions that occurred. Restless nights are common every once in awhile, but if you experience them often, try following some of the following suggestions to encourage more productive sleep habits:

  • Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine
  • Turn off all lights, including TV and computer screens
  • Eat nutritious foods
  • Exercise
  • Try to go to bed and wake up at a regular hour
  • Make sure you get at least 8 hours of rest, though some people require more
  • Develop a sleep ritual, such as taking a warm bath or reading a book to relax before bed

If these fail to bring you a better night’s rest, you may be experiencing a sleep disturbance issue. These include sleep apnea, a condition that jerks the body awake when it’s not getting enough oxygen, or even snoring, both of which your general doctor can work with you on to discuss next steps such trying a sleep aid or seeing a specialist. You may be dealing with stress, depression or anxiety in which case you may want to visit a psychologist to identify and address the source of those issues.

And don’t forget the benefits of a good nap, though to prevent it from disrupting your next night’s sleep, you’ll want to keep it under 30 minutes and no later than early afternoon.

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