The Betterment Project

How To Get More REM Sleep & Why It's Important

We set a precedent to sleep because it’s very good for us. Sleep holds very real benefits to it and when done correctly is very rewarding. It is generally considered that sleep happens to us in cycles and within these cycles there are four stages. Let’s take a closer look at these stages and what they have to offer us.

Sleep is a Cycle


When people sleep they do it in
sleep-wake cycles. You may colloquially hear this referred to as your internal clock. An entire sleep-wake cycle is composed of four specific phases that all have different purposes and accomplish different things. These four phases are divided further into two different categories of sleep - REM and nonREM sleep. 


REM itself stands for rapid eye movement and it gets its title from the fact that our brains are very active during this period of sleep - hence the eye movement that happens beneath our closed lids. This stage of sleep is the last stage of sleep and is associated with multiple health benefits. 


The other four stages are categorized as N1-N3 (non-REM sleep or NREM sleep) and serve different purposes and are also very important. Let's take a look at each stage and what it contributes to your sleep cycle:


Phase 1: N1


This is the initial phase of the sleep cycle and a crucial one that many people can plow through the moment their head hits the pillow and others lay awake for hours trying to complete it. This magical time between being fully conscious and falling into a dose. A person in this phase of sleep is in very light sleep and can be easily woken. 


This is also the beginning of your muscles and mind moving toward relaxation along with your breathing and heart rate. This stage of the sleep cycle is thought to last up to ten minutes on average. 


Phase 2: N2


As you progress past phase one you drift deeper into the unconscious state and your body starts to prepare for its stay in slumber. It does this by not only drifting deeper into sleep and being less likely to be awakened, but it also drops in temperature which is an important part of phase two. 


Your body is constantly moving and generating heat, so when it comes to not needing to spend energy, it’s important to lower its own temperature to save on energy. At this stage your brain is also preparing for N3 and REM sleep which are the
‘deep sleep’ phases of the sleep cycle. According to some studies, it is estimated that people spend up to fifty percent of their time sleeping in this cycle that can last up to twenty minutes. 


Phase 3: N3


This is one of the deepest stages of sleep and your mind enters a slow wave, or
delta wave, sleep. This is preparing your body for REM and is one of the more restorative and healing stages. People who sleep long enough to get multiple N3 phases in their sleep will typically feel refreshed and invigorated the next day. During delta sleep is when your body will grow and repair tissue, building muscle.


Being a deep sleep state, this state can also cause sleep inertia if you are awakened during it. Sleep inertia is simply the feeling of waking slowly or being foggy and groggy in your mind as you get out of bed. 


REM


The REM stage of the sleep cycle is where the brain goes into high gear. This is the stage that you are most likely to remember dreams from and it has been linked to many different health benefits. Your
brain activity actually heightens and your muscles are put into temporary paralysis during this stage so as to ensure that you do not act out your dreams. Your blood pressure , body temperature, and heart rate increase, and serotonin neurotransmitters produce melatonin to improve your sleep quality. 


The REM sleep stage is essential for a good night's sleep, but how much REM sleep do we really need? On average, an adult should get 90 to 100 minutes of REM sleep every night.


Benefits of REM Sleep


As we just looked at, every phase of sleep has a specific goal and is very important to the entire sleep cycle that typically lasts about ninety minutes, depending on the person. However, research indicates that REM sleep is possibly one of the most valuable phases of the sleep cycle. 


A healthy bedtime routine, good sleep hygiene, and a regular sleep schedule devoid of sleep disturbances has plenty of additional benefits including improved immune system function and lower risk of metabolic issues, obesity, and heart illness. REM sleep, specifically, has unique benefits outside of these gains.


Not only is it at the end of every sleep cycle which means it is the hardest phase to achieve, but it is also thought to have strong relationships to powerful health benefits. Studies have shown that there is a connection between REM sleep and our ability to develop and solidify memory. 


It’s during this time in our sleep cycle that our brains are most active. It is thought that during this time, our central nervous system is taking in old and new information and helping to implement it into an easily accessible memory. Not only this, but studies have shown that REM sleep is deeply associated with the brain's ability to learn and our long-term memory. 


While the exact relationship is still unknown, there are studies that have been done and are currently being done to show the complex relationship between
quality sleep and our ability to learn and remember stimuli. 


There has also been research that points to the benefits of REM sleep for neural development of infants that could have implications for adults as well.


Dangers of Not Getting Enough REM Sleep


A lack of sleep means inherently a lack of REM sleep. The effects of this are substantial and have been linked to all kinds of negative outcomes. Mood, memory, and learning all are thought to be greatly affected by a lack of sleep. 


Our entire body relies heavily on the ability to fall asleep and recharge, heal, learn and refresh over the course of sleep cycles. When this is taken away, sleep deprivation can cause unpleasant effects 


Not being able to fall asleep is not the only way we can rid ourselves of REM sleep. In fact, passing out or going unconscious is not enough to ensure that we will move through an entire sleep cycle. Certain conditions like stress and even chemicals that we introduce into our bodies like
caffeine can have a negative effect on our brain's ability to move through deep sleep. Depression and anxiety can cause sleep disorders, as can certain medications like antidepressants.


This means that we can hang out for prolonged periods of time in either of the first two phases of the sleep cycle and wake up not remembering being awake, but feeling very tired as if we hadn’t slept at all. 


Sleep Preparation


Here are a couple of ways you can prepare yourself for a night of sleep that will help you move through an entire sleep cycle.


Get Some Sunlight and Exercise


Making sure that you move through your day and expose yourself to the sun in a healthy fashion can have positive implications on your sleep journey. Using up excess energy before bed is a great way to let stress out and get ready to relax in the evening. 


Get Rid of Blue Lights


Screens emit a blue light
wave that studies are showing is linked to our brain in an exciting way. This means that the more time we spend scrolling through the gram or watching TV before bed, the better chance we have at not falling asleep. 


Lay Off the Booze When You Really Need to Snooze


Alcohol can promote your brain to feel sleepy and tired, and you may even fall asleep as a result of drinking alcoholic beverages. However, this form of sleep has been shown to be
shallow and not progress past the second phase of sleep. It will be light and you may still feel tired when you wake from it. 


Natural Supplements to Enforce a Natural Pathway


Our bodies have natural pathways that are designed to promote wellness, satiety and calmness of mind.
Taking supplements that combine all natural ingredients like chamomile and L-Tryptophan which encourage GABAergic effects on your central nervous system, can help you move into a strong and  gratifying night of sleep.

 


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Source:

REM sleep; Definition, functions, the effects of alcohol, and disorder | Medical News Today

Sleep Basics | REM & NREM, Sleep Stages, Good Sleep Habits & More | Cleveland Clinic

Sleep, Learning, and Memory | Harvard Med

The 4 Stages of Sleep (NREM and REM Sleep Cycles) | Very Well Health

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This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.

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