Classification of sleep stages

Written by Jonathan
Last update

Since the 1960s, sleep experts have been working with polysomnography to determine the different stages of sleep and wakefulness. Brain waves or EEG (electroencephalogram) represent the key components of this sleep staging. Here’s how the brain waves for each sleep stage typically look:

Sleep stage

Look of EEG (1 second)

Wave name


Wake with eyes open)


Beta wave


Wake with eyes closed)




N1 (transition from wake to sleep)


Theta wave


Light sleep (N2)


Theta wave with K-complex spindle*


Deep sleep (N3)


Delta wave




Sawtooth wave

Low intensity and mixed frequency

*A K-complex spindle is a large, slow peak followed by a smaller valley. It lasts at least ½s.

Here’s what your Dreem Band detects during the night via its different sensors:


100 values are extracted every 30 seconds by the headband’s different sensors (electroencephalogram, accelerometer, pulse oximeter), our algorithm then reproduces the expertise of a consensus of 5 sleep experts. Specialists have been hired at Dreem to train this algorithm every day by scoring (pre-anonymized) nights spent with the headband.


The hypnogram is a minute-by-minute review of your night. Here you can see which sleep stages you were in from sleep onset until the morning.


Of course, the changes between sleep stages are not that abrupt in real-life. For example a consolidated light sleep stage (N2) can look a lot like the beginning of deep sleep stage (N3). Also, some sleepers might have a deep sleep (N3) with a lower amplitude or frequency leading to it being interpreted as light sleep (N2). Age, for example, can be a factor for these patterns. These edge cases can sometimes be subject to different interpretations by different sleep specialists.

This inter-scorer variability is the reason we train our algorithms on a consensus of 5 scorers.

Because the definition of sleep stages is subject to interpretations that can evolve over time, our team frequently updates the algorithm to include new scored nights and new scoring rules adopted by scientists.