REM Sleep: How Important Is It?

Sleep can affect many major contributors to our everyday life, health, and mental well-being. Each night we go through a sleep cycle consisting of four stages, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep being the fourth and final stage in the cycle. 

What is REM Sleep?

REM sleep is the stage of sleep associated with (and named after) the period of rest in which the sleeping individual’s eyes move rapidly from side to side as they experience vivid dreams due to the brain being most active during this stage. Dreaming can occur during any other stage of the sleep cycle, however, the REM stage typically contains the most vivid and frequent dreams. 

During REM sleep, the individual’s body experiences temperature changes, twitching, rapid and irregular breathing, as well as increases in heart rate and blood pressure, brain activity, and oxygen use by the brain. Individuals may also become sexually aroused during the REM sleep stage.

What Are The Sleep Stages?

The four sleep stages consist of two separate types: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). The first 3 stages of sleep include non-rapid eye movement in which the individual is falling asleep, experiencing light sleep, and finally finding deep sleep. REM sleep is the fourth and final stage of the cycle.

A full sleep cycle will typically last around 90 minutes and the ideal number of cycles an individual should want to achieve is around five or six which equals about 7 to 9 hours. 

Is REM Sleep Important?

REM sleep is extremely important since it helps to enhance mood regulation and mental concentration, as well as plays a significant role in helping your brain to process and consolidate the new information. All of these things are critical to an individual’s day-to-day performance, both physically and mentally, as well as their overall quality of life. 

REM sleep is also the stage in which the most frequent and vivid dreams occur which leads to the belief that this stage of sleep may help the sleeping individual with emotional processing. It is also believed that since this stage involves memory consolidation, it may make it easier for an individual to learn in the future (near or far), as well as aid in the retention of long-term memories. 

How Much REM Sleep Do You Need?

It is estimated that with a healthy night’s sleep, a full 8 hours, an individual will spend around 2 of those 8 hours in the REM sleep stage. This is not spent consistently, as the sleep cycle does go through each stage and then repeats itself numerous times each night. But, in a full night of healthy sleep with the repeat of each stage throughout the length of about 5 cycles, an individual should spend around 25 percent of their sleep time in the REM stage. 

So, while REM sleep is beneficial and essential to certain processes, it is also important to know that each of the three stages leading up to the REM stage is of equal importance as they play similar roles in preparing and easing our body into such a state as that that can then benefit fully from the REM stage. 

What Are The Effects From Lack Of REM Sleep?

A lack of REM sleep can consist of some major difficulties when it comes to coping with emotional stimuli, as well as can make it increasingly difficult to regulate or predict your mood or responses to those stimuli. We have all heard the phrase, “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Well, this may be because that person did not get enough sleep or enough REM sleep which would have allowed their body and mind to refresh and prepare for the new day that has now arrived and is in full swing. 

Other effects from a lack of REM sleep can include a risk of migraine attacks. This of course would most likely be because we either did not get enough sleep or REM sleep. It is also reported that a lack of REM sleep might lead to a risk in an individual experiencing weight gain or even obesity. Immune systems may also be weakened by a lack of REM sleep, as well as a blockage of the growth of new and healthy tissues and cells in the individual’s body. 

How Can I Get More REM Sleep?

The easiest and possibly even the best way to improve your chances of getting a sufficient amount of REM sleep is as simple as ensuring that you allow yourself a solid night’s sleep. Ways that you can do this can include having the right mattress, pillows, or bedding. Temperature controls can contribute to our rest, as well; are you sleeping too hot or too cold? Our diet can contribute to how well or unwell we sleep at night. 

Another major thing we do to better ensure our amount of rest each night includes shutting off the distractions around us at an earlier time. That way we give our bodies sufficient time to wind down and begin to relax and prepare themselves for the sleep that is to come. Televisions, cell phones, gaming systems – all these things are major distractions that can disrupt and counteract our chances of getting a full and restful night's sleep. Shutting these items down earlier than later is always a good idea since it will allow us to begin to quiet our minds and thoughts which, in turn, will allow us to transition into a sleep state and progress through the sleep cycles more effectively and efficiently. 

Tracking Your REM Sleep

With new and exciting technology being invented and recreated every day it is no surprise that trackers for your sleep and quality of sleep are also a major thing today. REM sleep trackers can include wristbands and watches that can be worn at night, as well as rings for your finger, and even apps that can be downloaded to your phone. These sleep tracking devices can be beneficial by not only tracking the time you sleep but also recording and tracking such things as environmental factors in your bedroom while you sleep like temperature and light. 

As with any other products on the market, there will be pros and cons to each, as well as personal preferences for each user. So, just be mindful of what’s comfortable for you to wear at night and what you think works best for your personal needs. Reading reviews from other users of the product can also be very insightful when attempting to figure out what may work best for your sleeping situation and recording needs. 

Staying On Track

Whatever you decide, whether to track your sleep through an app or simply try and create a schedule for better sleep and sleeping habits, the main ingredient to anything being a success is consistency. Sleep matters. You matter. So, be sure to allow yourself time and opportunity to find a quality night’s rest. It is important.