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For many centuries, it was believed that sleep was nothing more than a method of relaxation. In 1953, the concept of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) was observed and understood as a stage of sleep that all reptiles, birds and mammals experience, and which has various repercussions for our health and vitality.
It turns out that REM sleep is vital for basic human functioning and quality of life as it strengthens mental abilities, especially learning and memory. REM sleep is signified by intense eye movements linked to dreaming.
Continue reading to learn about the stages of sleep, the importance of REM sleep, how much REM sleep you need and how you can get more REM sleep.
What Are The 5 Stages Of Sleep?
There are five stages of sleep including wake, N1, N2, N3 and REM, in this exact order.
N1, N2 and N3 are NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep; with every stage, you fall into a deeper slumber.
REM is the most active stage of sleep, and this is where we tend to dream. In this stage, the eyes remain closed but move behind closed eyelids. Moreover, brain activity is different in REM sleep compared to NREM sleep. The brain waves are faster and smaller, known as theta waves, and are similar to those associated with wakefulness.
During REM sleep, the muscles in the body become paralyzed preventing us from acting out our dreams. However, people may twitch or spasm lightly in their REM state. Heart rate also increases, which can be seen in uneven breathing at this stage. If you wake someone up during REM sleep, you will find that they are relatively more alert than when woken up during deep sleep.
The time and duration of REM sleep depend on different parts of an individual's brain. REM sleep usually occurs at 90-minute intervals which each increase in duration and become more frequent the longer you sleep. They start by lasting for 10-minutes and eventually go on for 60-minutes. However, most of the night is spent in NREM sleep rather than REM sleep. The third stage of sleep, N3, is the deepest NREM sleep where delta waves have the highest amplitude and lowest frequency.
Why Is REM Sleep Important?
REM sleep is crucial for brain development as well as motor learning. This is made evident by the fact that 50% of a baby's sleep is in the REM stage, which helps develop their brains.
This stage of sleep has also been linked with higher creativity and emotional processing. Even though individuals can dream during NREM sleep, dreams during REM sleep feel more natural. Experts have also found that REM sleep helps individuals recover from traumatic events in their life, making it essential for those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
REM sleep also affects the physical body; a lack of this sleep has been linked to obesity, increased appetite and higher cortisol levels.
How Much REM Sleep Do You Need?
Adults need a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. REM sleep is linked with dreaming and is not a restful stage of sleep. An EEG taken during REM sleep is similar to that of an individual in a wakeful state; hence, it should make up 20 to 25 percent of an individual's total sleep time.
However, most experts focus more on overall sleep time than REM sleep because every individual's body regulates itself and maintains a balance between the different stages of sleep.
If you do not sleep enough one night, REM sleep may not be affected. However, after 12 to 24 hours of sleep deprivation, your body can experience a REM rebound effect during your next sleep cycle. This is when your body experiences an increase in REM sleep to compensate for missed REM sleep.
You may think you can survive on four hours of sleep every night, but this is typically not the case. It has been found that REM sleep is a vital part of memory consolidation that helps neural connections in the brain and prepares it for future learning. On average, 8 hours is the amount of time necessary to achieve all sleep states for optimum health. This amount can be more or less depending on personal, genetic and other factors.
6 Ways To Get More REM Sleep
Establish A Sleep Routine
It is vital to sleep and wake at the same time each day, regardless of whether or not you have work in the morning to experience better sleep patterns.
A longer duration of REM sleep aligns with the fall of body temperature that occurs in the early hours of the morning, regulated by the circadian rhythm. Irregular sleep and wake times can confuse the body, hindering REM sleep.
Avoid Drinking Caffeine & Alcohol In The Evening
When you consume caffeine or alcohol in the evening or close to bedtime, you will likely experience less REM sleep. Caffeine interferes with sleep progression and can cause you to toss and turn in bed, leading to a disturbed sleep cycle.
If you will be drinking caffeine or alcohol, consume it earlier in the day.
Reduce Exposure To Screens & Bright Light Before Bedtime
Screens produce blue light and delay our transition into sleep. It doesn't matter if you are listening to a soothing song or podcast or doing something calming on your phone to help you sleep; exposure to screens hinders the production of melatonin making it difficult for the brain to experience all the stages of sleep.
Exercise Regularly (In The First Half Of The Day)
Research shows that regular exercise can minimize sleep disruptions, allowing you to fall into deeper and restful stages of sleep quickly. When you exercise early in the morning, the body then releases melatonin in the evening, allowing you to sleep better.
Exercising in the first half of the day is also recommended because working out increases the core body temperature. Too much physical activity can stimulate the nervous system, increasing heart rate and making it harder to fall asleep.
Update Your Mattress & Pillows
Over time, your mattress and pillows may wear out and develop lumps or sagging. When this happens, your neck and head are not properly supported, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
To ensure you get the recommended amount of sleep, you must be comfortable and at ease.
Stop Taking Sleep Aids
It is a popular belief that sleep aids help you fall asleep faster, but these have strong side effects.
Consuming sleep aids daily affects concentration and memory, leading to sleep disorders, abnormal behavior, muscle weakness and drowsiness.
Health Benefits Of Getting The Proper Amount Of Sleep
Easier To Control Weight Gain/ Loss
Studies have shown that a disturbed sleep pattern is linked with a greater risk of obesity and a higher body mass index.
Sleep affects hormones, brain function and motivation to exercise. Without sufficient quality sleep, the levels of ghrelin in your body increase while the levels of leptin fall. Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite, while leptin helps you feel satiated. Due to these two hormones, you end up overeating during the day when you do not get enough good sleep at night.
Strengthens Your Immune System
Studies show that a lack of sleep weakens the immune system. It is no wonder those who sleep for less than 5-hours a night are more likely to fall ill compared to those who get more than 7-hours of sleep.
Poor sleep also increases inflammation in the body since sleep helps regulate the nervous system. Your body's stress-response systems are affected when you don't sleep properly.
Improves Memory & Recall Functions
Poor mood, recall functions, productivity, cognition and performance are all linked with sleep deprivation.
On nights that you don't sleep well, memory consolidation is affected. Studies also show that numerous nights of poor sleep can lead to a person's brain creating false memories.
Sleep and good mood are strongly linked, so it's only natural that you end up feeling happier and more energetic when you have had a good night's sleep.
Inadequate sleep can increase stress and irritability. Chronic insomnia or multiple nights of a poor sleep routine can lead to mood disorders and depression.
Regulates Blood Sugars
Did you know that sleep and glucose are connected? When you don't sleep enough, the glucose metabolism in your body becomes impaired over time, leading to an increase in insulin levels.
Eventually, higher blood sugar levels lead to insulin resistance; if you are not careful, you can develop diabetes.
Consulting With A Medical Professional
Sleep, particularly REM sleep, is extremely important for the body and brain. Poor quality of sleep can lead to numerous disorders and illnesses, many of which are difficult to recover from.
As long as you maintain a comfortable sleep schedule, create a calming bedtime routine for yourself, exercise during the day and put your phones away at bedtime, the quality of your sleep will improve significantly.
If you find that despite trying all of this, you still have a hard time falling asleep or have been experiencing insomnia, speak to a professional or consult your doctor. They can help you understand whether you have an underlying condition disturbing your sleep and provide the correct treatments to help your body recover.