What is REM?

Sleep is a complex process including sleep cycles like REM, where we are unconscious, but our brain remains very active. Sleep is also a vital part of our daily life as it helps our bodies to feel rested and rejuvenated, heal, improve moods, can prevent health ailments or diseases and helps our brains process new information. One of the systems within the body that regulates sleep is the circadian clock, our body' natural clock, and sleep drive, which is determined by how long you are awake. During sleep, the brain will cycle through 5 different phases: stage 1,2,3,4 and REM sleep. These phases can be divided into two categories: Non-REM sleep and REM Sleep. What is REM? REM is an acronym for Rapid Eye Movement. It' the phase in our sleep cycles where our eyes rapidly move. Most dreams are said to occur during this phase, which can happen several times per night. REM Sleep is believed to benefit our moods, memory, and learning. Additionally, REM Sleep is very important for brain development in infants as it contributes to the construction of mature neural connections. REM sleep accounts for 20-to-25 percent of an adult' sleep cycle and at least 50 percent of infants. Typically, we experience the first cycle of REM sleep roughly 90 minutes after we fall asleep. What is Non-REM Sleep? Non-REM sleep is comprised of the first four phases the body goes through within the sleep cycle: Stage 1: is a very light sleep or the point where our bodies are just about to fall asleep, but still slightly awake. Stage 2: Our body temperature beings to drop in this stage and are heart rate begins to slow down as we fall into a somewhat deeper sleep. Stage 3 and 4: These two stages are closely linked (depending on which expert you speak to) where the body is in a state of deep sleep. The muscles are very relaxed and undergo a process of healing and growing. This is also the stage where our bodies release hormones and replenish our energy. Depending on an adult' age, and how long they sleep at night, the duration of non-REM sleep typically lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours. Our Body and Brain During REM Sleep In addition to the processes that our bodies and brains go through during Non-REM sleep, they also experience the following changes during REM sleep:
  • Irregular or increased breathing
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Twitches to limbs, face and other body parts
  • Very relaxed muscles, almost like temporary paralysis
  • Possible sexual arousal in both genders
  • The brain consumes more oxygen
  • Brain activity increases to levels similar when awake
Lack of REM Sleep As stated above, REM sleep benefits our memory, moods, and learning. Conversely, when we don't get enough REM sleep, the following consequences may occur: Memory Impairment Studies have shown that when people suffer from sleep deprivation, it decreases or prevents REM sleep and has a negative impact on long term memory. Additionally, these people may also have difficulty remembering things they just learned prior to falling asleep. Inability to Cope Lack of REM Sleep has been linked to abnormalities in coping skills during threatening situations. Migraines Researchers have discovered that REM sleep deprivation can lead to changes in protein levels that are linked to causing migraines. Overweight A lack of sleep, including reduced REM sleep, has been directly linked to causing excess weight in children, adolescents, and adults. Improving REM Sleep Ideally, healthy adults should be sleeping 7 to 9 hours per night. Unfortunately, many adults struggle with getting a good night sleep, which includes REM sleep. The following is a list of tips for improving REM and Non-REM sleep: Create a bed time routine and stick with it. A consistent bed time routine can help the mind and body prepare for bed and maximize the number of hours you have set aside for sleeping at night. Create the ideal sleep environment with little to no light inside and outdoors, no electronics, and a comfortable room temperature. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and evenly supports your body weight. Sleep with a pillow that best suits your dominant sleeping position by providing the right head and neck support. Also, include smaller pillows for knees or lower back depending on your dominant sleeping position. Find the perfect pillow for you, here. Make sure all sheets are of high quality and breathable to keep you cooler at night. Sheets that feature Tencel® Lyocell and other specialized fibers are high-performance sheets. They contribute to cooler nights and deeper sleep. Don't take any caffeine late at night and avoid alcohol. While alcohol can increase the ability to fall asleep, it has been shown to impair REM sleep and impact sleep cycles.