What is the perfect night’s sleep?

Margaret Thatcher famously ran the country for 11 years on just four hours’ sleep, while Dante reportedly wrote the Divine Comedy on uncontrollable naps lasting no more than a few minutes.

And while we’ve all heard about the quasi-mythical figure of eight, many of us need up to ten hours in bed at a time. The truth is that there is no such thing as the perfect night’s sleep – just what suits the needs of each individual.

What is clear, however, is that everyone’s sleep is made up of the same key elements; a cyclical series of phases that must be successfully completed to enjoy a good night.

So, what are these patterns? Sleep can be broadly divided into two types: non-rapid eye movement (NREM), which is broken up into three further phases, and rapid eye movement (REM). And they follow this pattern:

• The first phase of NREM – indeed the first stage of sleep – is when the muscles are still active and the eyes move slowly.

• Once the second stage of NREM is reached, it becomes harder to wake, with the brain working overtime to keep the body feeling tranquil.

• At the third point of NREM, the body is deeply sleeping in a state of log-like bliss.

• Next sees a return to the second phase of NREM, as sleep’s hold ever-so-slightly lessens.

• And then comes REM – the hardest point to wake from and yet the phase when the brain is working in a similar way to during the day.

The cyclical nature of sleep means that we pass through all the stages every 90 minutes until morning, when – fingers crossed – we wake up refreshed and ready to go.

What is the perfect nights sleep?
What is the perfect nights sleep?