Do you have difficulty concentrating during the day? Or do you experience excessive daytime sleepiness?
Chances are, you’re not getting enough REM Sleep.
Also known as Rapid Eye Movement sleep, REM sleep is arguably the most important stage of your sleep cycle. It helps in brain development, memory consolidation, and emotional processing.
In this article, we will explore the various stages of sleep, including REM Sleep. We will also highlight the importance of REM sleep and how to get more of it.
So, join us on this interesting journey!
Stages of Sleep
As you sleep, your body goes through the four stages of sleep. The first three stages are collectively known as Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep, also known as quiet sleep. The fourth stage is the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep or active sleep.
Each stage has a unique function and plays an integral role in the body. While some are associated with physical rest and repairs, others maintain the brain’s cognitive performance.
Let’s discuss what happens through these four stages of sleep.
NREM Stage 1
This is the first and lightest stage of your sleep cycle. It is the transitional period between being awake and falling asleep. It makes up about 5% of your sleep time.
During this stage, your brain activity slows down. This, in turn, reduces your heartbeat, eye movements, and breathing. Your body also goes into a relaxed state, and sometimes your muscles twitch.
This sleep stage often lasts about five to ten minutes. And if you were to wake someone while they were in this stage, they’d probably be more alert because the brain is still fairly active.
NREM Stage 2
This is a light sleep state where the brain activity slows down, but you might experience short bursts of activities. It lasts about twenty minutes per every sleep cycle and accounts for about 45% of your total sleep time.
During this stage, you’re less aware of your surroundings, your body temperature drops and your eye movements cease. Also, your breathing and heart rate falls into a regular rhythm.
The occasional bursts of brain activity experienced at this stage are known as sleep spindles. They’re considered a part of the process of memory consolidation. This is where your brain gathers and processes any fresh memories acquired throughout the day.
NREM Stage 3
NREM Stage 3 is a period of deep sleep that takes up about 25% of your sleep time. Here, brain activity gets even slower, and it’s hard to be woken up by any noises. Some people even sleepwalk during this stage.
During deep sleep, your muscles are completely relaxed, your blood pressure decreases, and your breathing slows. Here, the body starts physically repairing itself and boosting its immune system. Getting enough NREM stage three sleep ensures you stay refreshed and active every morning.
Also, in this stage, the brain processes memories, any skill you learned through the day, general knowledge, and facts. From this stage, you’ll move back to NREM Stage 2 before shifting to REM sleep.
Stage 4: REM Sleep
REM sleep is the final stage of the sleep cycle. It usually begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Here, brain activity, eye movement, heart rate, and breathing increase. But your body remains relaxed and immobilized. Dreams also occur at this stage of sleep.
During this stage, emotions and emotional memories are processed and stored. Also, your cells repair and rebuild, and your body releases hormones that promote bone, tissue, and muscle growth.
During deep sleep (NREM Stage 3 and REM), the body also works to strengthen your immunity.
Time spent in each sleep stage varies throughout the night as the cycle repeats about four to five times. It also helps to know that you don’t follow the four sleep stages in perfect sequence when you sleep. They progress as follows:
After REM sleep ends, your body repeats NREM Stage 2 before the cycle starts all over again.
What Happens During REM Sleep?
As mentioned above, REM sleep usually happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. This phase also makes up about 25% of your total sleep time.
The first period of REM lasts about 10 minutes and only gets longer with each sleep cycle. The last one might go up to one hour.
During REM sleep, most of your body operates similarly to your wake state. Your eyes move rapidly behind closed lids, and your heartbeat and blood pressure increase. Also, your breathing becomes faster and irregular. Your brain is also highly active in this phase.
The major difference is your muscles are relaxed. Studies show that this temporary paralysis might serve as a protective measure. It prevents you from acting out your most intense dreams and injuring yourself.
Even though most of your muscles are paralyzed, you will experience occasional muscle twitches. These twitches activate certain regions of the brain that assist in motor learning and development.
Did you know babies can spend up to 50% of their sleep in the REM sleep stage as compared to about 20-25% for adults?
Importance of REM Sleep
Overall, sleep is essential for good health. But the REM sleep stage, in particular, plays a crucial part in several body processes and functions, including:
1. Learning and Memory Consolidation
REM sleep plays a critical role in forming memories and gaining knowledge. During rem sleep, your brain processes new knowledge and motor skills learned throughout the day.
During this time, the brain processes information and consolidates memories. Studies also suggest that memories get sorted and retained or cast off during rem sleep.
As a result, sleep deprivation can negatively affect a person’s memory. A 2016 study on healthy adolescents found they were at a higher risk of forming false memories if they suffered from sleep deprivation.
Similarly, if REM sleep is impaired, you might find it more difficult to learn new things or to remember anything you learned.
2. Emotional Processing
REM sleep also plays a significant role in how people process their emotions and remember emotionally charged events.
During REM sleep, the amygdala, the part of your brain that processes emotions, is highly active. Research suggests that REM sleep affects the level of emotion anyone attaches to a particular memory.
Another theory suggests that dreams, which become more intense during the REM sleep stage, may also be involved in emotional processing.
3. Brain Development
REM sleep is crucial for brain development. During early infancy, up to 50% of sleep is spent in the REM sleep stage. This is because REM sleep helps in neural stimulation necessary for mature brain structure development.
The time you spend in this sleep stage reduces with age. However, REM sleep might last longer after a learning session.
REM is not the only stage in which a dream occurs. However, it is the stage where a majority of your dreams occur. That said, the nocturnal visions you experience in this stage are more vivid than all the other stages.
Related: How Much REM Sleep Do You Need?
Why Are You Not Getting Enough REM Sleep?
The amount and time you spend in the REM sleep stage depend on several body processes. The most prevalent being the circadian rhythm.
This is the internal clock that synchronizes your sleep/wake cycle. That means it helps regulate your REM sleep duration throughout the night.
Besides the circadian rhythm, the factors below might affect the time spent in REM sleep.
Studies show that people with depression and anxiety disorders often slip into REM sleep earlier (before the 90-minute mark). And their REM sleep might last longer than 10 minutes.
However, certain antidepressant medications can promote or impair REM sleep and overall sleep quality.
Certain sleep disorders can interfere with the amount of REM sleep you get. These include; Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), narcolepsy, sleep paralysis, nightmare disorder, and REM sleep behavior disorder.
In OSA, the airway collapses, causing breathing to stop and start through the night. Apnea can occur in both NREM and REM, but it becomes more prevalent in the latter. Theories suggest this is due to muscle relaxation that occurs during REM sleep.
People with REM sleep behavior disorder don’t experience muscle paralysis as healthy sleepers do when they enter REM sleep. As a result, they can act out their violent dreams, potentially injuring their sleeping partners. This disorder can also cause a lot of disruptions to your sleep cycle and daily life.
Narcoleptic patients often fall asleep suddenly and enter the REM state immediately. This severely limits the duration of deep sleep they experience.
Effects of Lack of REM Sleep
Not having enough REM sleep has several effects, both long-term and short-term. It might affect childhood growth and development, learning, and even pain tolerance.
Studies show that REM sleep deprivation hinders implicit learning. This is a form of learning that occurs outside of a person’s awareness. Individuals who often struggle with mastering implicit learning might have a hard time performing automatic tasks. The same goes for activities that don’t require conscious effort.
Similarly, insufficient REM sleep may reduce a person’s ability to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening stimuli and respond accordingly.
Losing REM sleep might also increase your pain sensitivity. A lab study showed that people deprived of a full night’s REM sleep had less pain tolerance than those who enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Furthermore, people with REM sleep deprivation are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases or obesity.
How To Increase REM Sleep
1. Develop and Maintain a Sleep Schedule
It’s important to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Keeping irregular sleep/wake times may confuse the body and interfere with REM sleep.
2. Treat Sleep Disorders
If sleep disorders constantly disrupt your sleep, seek professional help. Oftentimes, treating the disorder helps to nomarlize your sleep/wake cycle and promote sufficient REM sleep.
3. Avoid Taking Sleep Aids
Some antidepressant medications might suppress your REM sleep and cause REM to rebound when you stop taking them.
Most people are on these medications for long periods. When faced with the choice between keeping the meds or forgoing them, many choose to keep using the medication.
However, if lack of REM sleep negatively affects your quality of life, ask your doctor to switch your medication or reduce your dosage.
4. Refrain from Alcohol, Caffeine, and Tobacco
Drinking alcohol causes delays to the time when you first enter REM sleep and might lessen the time you spend in REM sleep.
If consumed in the evening or close to your usual bedtime, caffeine, and tobacco might affect the normal progression through the sleep stages. Stimulants generally interfere with sleep.
5. Use Sleep Hygiene Techniques
These include practices that can help you regulate your sleep and improve sleep quality, such as:
- Keeping any gadgets or screens out of your bedroom. Also, avoid using any electronics while in bed.
- Maintaining a cool, quiet, and dark environment in your bedroom
- Create a relaxing sleep routine before bed. For example, reading a book, listening to calm music, or having a warm bath.
- If you can’t sleep, don’t lie in bed awake. Instead, move to another room and do something else quietly until you feel sleepy.
- Exercising regularly during the day ensures you’re exhausted by bedtime.
- Replacing your pillows, especially if you’ve had them for more than a year.
The tips above will also help you get into the REM sleep stage faster while enjoying the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
Before we wrap up, it’s clear that REM sleep is an essential stage of the sleep cycle. Thanks to this stage, we can process our emotions, consolidate our memories, and promote brain development.
Besides that, REM sleep allows us to experience vivid dreams that enhance our creativity and problem-solving skills.
So, ensure you get enough REM sleep at night to enjoy these benefits. And the best way to do that is to develop a bedtime routine, keep your room dark and reduce screen time before bed.
That’s all for today. We hope you found this post helpful. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comment section.