Sleep is an absolutely crucial part of the day. If you don’t get enough sleep for even a single night, you start to notice the drawbacks almost immediately. However, there is more than a single part to sleep. REM sleep is just one stage of sleep that is absolutely crucial that you get enough of.
What are the Stages of the Sleep Cycle
When you go to sleep, your brain isn’t set on just one mode of sleep. Instead, you go through multiple stages of sleep where your brain activity changes. This includes 3 cycles of non-REM (NREM) sleep and a cycle of REM sleep.
The first stage of sleep starts as you fall asleep. During this stage, your eyes move slower, your muscles relax, and your brain wave activity calms down. You can easily be awakened during this stage and it’s also the stage where you might experience hypnic jerks – that feeling of falling right as you fall asleep that wakes you up. It should be noted that some don’t consider this an official sleep cycle and start with the next cycle as the first cycle.
The second stage is a little deeper sleep and you won’t be awakened as easily as during the stage of falling asleep. Your brain intermixes activity known as K complexes and sleep spindles which help you stay asleep. Eye movement is minimal during this stage, heart rate slows, and body temperature falls.
The third stage is the deepest level of NREM sleep. Your brain releases slow waves of activity called delta waves and you won’t wake easily during this stage. This is the stage that is the most restorative and it’s also the stage where parasomnias come into play. That means that if you sleep talk, sleepwalk, or have night terrors that this is the stage where that typically happens.
Finally, you get to the REM stage of sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement, which is exactly what happens during this stage of sleep. The brain also more active in this stage and releases more active brain waves during REM sleep.
You are also more likely to move around and dream. An interesting finding is that this is especially true for individuals with REM sleep behavior disorder which causes them to act out their dreams. When people are awoken during REM sleep, they tend to find it hard to get up and feel groggy or still tired.
These cycles don’t necessarily follow a 1, 2, 3, 4, and then you wake up. These cycles might loop a few times before you wake up depending on how long you sleep.
More Detail on REM Sleep
Now that you know the basics of the sleep cycle, let’s take a deeper look into what happens during REM sleep and what it is.
REM sleep usually starts after you’ve been asleep for around an hour and a half. The first time you go through this sleep cycle, it typically only lasts for around 10 minutes. When you make your way back to REM sleep again, the cycle will last longer. This cycle can work its way up to an hour before it ends as the last phase before you wake up.
Why Is REM Sleep Important?
REM sleep might not be the deepest stage of sleep but its role is an absolutely crucial one. For one, it stimulates important parts of your brain. Specifically, these parts of your brain are crucial to your ability to learn and make memories.
These parts of your brain are especially important when you are young. Because of this, infants and young children experience longer periods of REM sleep than adults. However, adults still need and benefit from REM sleep as well.
There are a few ways that you can ensure that you have more REM sleep that we will look at moving forward.
Set a Schedule
The human body works on a 24-hour cycle. This is why you might feel tired around the time you usually go to bed and wake up when you usually awaken even if your alarm isn’t set. Having a schedule like this can’t be overstated in its importance. The more scheduled your sleep is, the better it will be.
You should also try to get more sleep by going to be earlier. This tip is pretty obvious – if you have to wake up at 6 a.m., you don’t want to wait until 2 a.m. to go to bed. You need to give your body time to work its way through the sleep cycle and not be forced awake during a phase that will leave you exhausted.
Avoid Certain Food and Drinks
Another rather obvious tip is to not do anything that will keep you awake late at night. For instance, you don’t want to drink a cup of coffee or an energy drink an hour before you go to bed.
You’ll also want to avoid foods that you have a low tolerance for such as spicy food or dairy products. This has to do with the fact that you want to be as comfortable as possible when you are trying to fall asleep.
There are also other items of consumption that can reduce your REM sleep. Drinking alcoholic beverages before bed or smoking cigarettes can reduce the quality of REM sleep.
Discuss Sleep Medications with Your Doctor
For many insomniacs, the only way to sleep is through the help of over-the-counter or prescription medications. If you are on these, speak to your doctor about them because some reduce the amount of REM sleep that you get. Luckily, if you are concerned about this aspect of the medication, a doctor can typically point you in the right direction.