Want to know what’s happening during the third of your life that you spend unconscious? Turns out, you’re actually pretty busy during those 6-9 hours a night! Here’s the deal: sleep is broken up into stages, and the stages of sleep are characterized by things called brain waves. For those of you that are unfamiliar, brain waves are electrical patterns in the brain, and there are 5 brainwave patterns that all have different frequencies:
- Delta brain waves have the lowest frequency, and occur when you’re sleeping deeply (think mouth-open, loud-snoring, drool-producing sleep). They look like long, wavy lines on an electroencephalogram, a test that measures brain waves.
- Theta brain waves are slightly higher up on the frequency scale, and appear slightly more spiky on a brain wave test. They tend to occur in sleep, but can also occur during meditation. They’re also associated with deep emotion and creative thought.
- Alpha brain waves happen before and during sleep, and during deep calm. They can also be accessed in meditation.
- Beta brain waves are associated with cognitive thought and alertness. Our brain produces beta brain waves all day while we’re at work, driving, or speaking to someone.
- Gamma brain waves, with the highest frequency, are super special. They show up when we take in new information and during states of extreme happiness. Experienced meditators have been shown to produce gamma brain waves during deep meditation. These brainwaves look like sharp, short spikes all crammed together.
After your head hits the pillow, your brainwaves take you through the 4 stages of sleep. The stages follow the exact pattern you might expect—until you get to the last stage, when things get weird. No spoilers here—you’ll have to read through to the end to find out what happens at the very last stage of sleep!