While all sleep stages are crucial, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep plays a particularly critical role in memory, learning, and emotional health. No matter how long you sleep, if you deprive yourself of REM, it can feel like you’ve barely rested. Your emotions from the day before will still feel fresh and sharp, and your ability to focus will feel non-existent.

It’s no way to sleep.

What is REM Sleep?

It is a stage in the sleep cycle that closely resembles wakefulness. While we are deeply asleep, our brain activity mirrors that of being awake. This stage is where our brain engages in processes critical to learning, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation.

What Are the Stages in the Sleep Cycle?

As you start drifting off, you enter the first stage of the sleep cycle: Non-REM 1. This stage is characterized as light sleep and lasts for 10 minutes.

In the second stage, Non-REM 2, your muscles relax, and breathing becomes slower.

In the third stage, deep sleep, your body begins many reparative processes. Your bones and muscles are tended to, hormones are released, and energy is restored.

Finally, REM sleep begins. Your heart rate, breathing, and brain activity increase. The areas of the brain that process emotions and sensory input take charge. Ideally, if you are getting quality sleep, you will move through these stages 4-6 times before waking. Then, after your final cycle, you will wake up rested and energized.

What Factors Affect Getting Enough REM Sleep?

If you have a habit of sleeping late and then waking up early with an alarm, there is a very high chance your REM sleep is disrupted. Using an alarm clock disrupts natural sleep patterns and robs you of the opportunity to wake up after your last REM cycle completes. For those who rely on an alarm clock for waking up due to work or other commitments, enhancing REM sleep can still be achieved by maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Make sure you allot 7-9 hours of sleep during this period to ensure you experience multiple Rapid Eye Movement cycles.

Alcohol consumption significantly reduces REM sleep.

How Much of it Do We Need?

Newborns spend a large portion of their sleep time in REM sleep, around 50%. This percentage gradually decreases as we age. Adults typically require around 90 minutes, which is achieved through several cycles throughout a full night’s sleep.  While some nights may have slightly less REM sleep, consistently getting less than this amount can lead to the negative consequences.

How Can You Get More of it?

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day helps your brain know when it should be resting. This consistency is crucial for regulating your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Other behaviours that help regulate your biological clock include:

  • Having a consistent eating schedule
  • Not eating too late at night
  • Getting regular exercise (at least 3-4 times a week)
  • Exposure to morning sunlight
  • Avoiding blue light at night

Understanding and prioritizing REM sleep is a crucial component of overall health. You could be getting sufficient hours of rest, but if your lifestyle or sleep habits negatively affect this deep sleep stage, you’ll still experience sleep deprivation and its negative consequences.

Here are some related articles that can help you understand more about how to improve your sleep.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Actually Need?

Understand the Different Sleep Cycles to Become a Better Sleeper

A Fixed Sleep Schedule: Why Is It Important?

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