What is REM Sleep?
Best Slept™: Tips on Understanding Different Stages of Sleep
You may have heard the term, but do you know what it means? Understanding the importance of REM helps explain why a solid night’s sleep is so important.
Most people climb into bed at night without ever thinking about the different stages of sleep that their brain and body cycle through or how these stages can affect their health. But understanding the role of REM sleep is important. This particular stage of sleep has a major impact on your memory, mental focus, and mood.
In this article you’ll learn about what REM is, why the REM portion of your sleep is so important, and how to make sure you’re achieving the right amount every night.
Know Your Sleep Stages
Ever wonder why you are tired despite getting a full night’s sleep? Maybe you didn’t spend enough time in the deep sleep stage of your sleep. Sleep is generally divided into two stages: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). NREM is further split into three parts: starting to fall asleep, light sleep, and deep sleep. During deep sleep, your breathing slows down, your blood pressure drops, and your energy is renewed.
During a typical night, your sleep alternates through cycles of REM and NREM sleep about every 90 minutes. The REM stage accounts for approximately 25 percent of sleep time, while the NREM stage takes up the other 75 percent. Ideally, you want to achieve five or six full sleep cycles, the equivalent to seven and a half to nine hours of sleep each night. You may feel more refreshed and rested if you wake up at the end of a cycle, instead of in the middle of one.
Understanding REM Sleep
While you’re in the REM stage of sleep, your eyes move rapidly (giving this stage its name), darting back and forth under your closed lids. It is during this state that most of your dreaming takes place. At the same time, your muscles become temporarily paralyzed—important so that you don’t attempt to act out those dreams. REM sleep involves more brain activity than NREM and is considered a more “wakeful” state, as your heart rate and blood pressure increase to levels close to what you experience when you are awake.
Why Is REM Sleep Important?
REM sleep plays a significant role in helping your brain consolidate and process new information. This information is then retained in your long-term memory. REM sleep also helps to ensure better mental concentration and mood regulation, two things that are critical to both your daily work performance and overall quality of life.
The negative effects from lack of REM sleep are serious: Without this critical sleep stage, your immune system could be weakened, you may experience pain more deeply, and the growth of new healthy cells and tissue in the body might be blocked. Poor REM sleep may be due to sleep disorders such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, which causes you to wake during the night.
Improving Your REM Sleep
There are apps and tools on the market that are helpful in quantifying how long you sleep and how much you toss and turn during the night. By measuring things like changes in heart rate, they may be able to estimate your REM sleep as well. But it’s also true that by simply focusing on getting a solid night of sleep, you will likely improve your chances of getting a sufficient amount of the all-important REM stage, too.
How to make sure you get the sleep you need? Wind down gradually in the evening, without TV or computers to distract you with their sleep-inhibiting blue light. Head to bed at the same time each evening to increase your odds of developing a healthy sleep schedule. And limit caffeine and alcohol before bed to improve your overall sleep.