REM sleep is perhaps the most important stage of the dream cycle. During it, the brain is active in a very similar way to when you’re awake, and for this reason, is sometimes also known as paradoxical or desynchronised sleep.
REM sleep is crucial for the brain’s development and processing at the end of a day. In fact, a Boston University study found an association between less REM sleep and a 9% increase in dementia later in life, and a number of studies on rats have found a positive correlation between less REM sleep and worse long term memory. Needless to say, REM sleep is just as crucial as they say it is.
So, why is REM sleep important, how long does it last and at what stage is REM sleep occurring? Find out as we discuss the importance of REM sleep, here.
What is a REM Cycle?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of REM, we need to know where it falls within the sleep cycle. We experience multiple sleep cycles in a night, each one taking about 90 minutes to complete. These cycles are made up of three stages of N-REM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, followed by one of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
Here is a breakdown of what each of these stages entails:
Stages 1-3 (N-REM)
The first three stages of the sleep cycle take up the majority of the 90-minute cycle. The first stage is so light that a sudden muscle contraction, a common experience known as hypnic jerk, would be enough to wake you.
In the second stage, your body’s temperature falls, and the brain shows some signs of activity in sleep spindles – research suggests that this could be the brain processing new memories.
Your eye and muscle movement gradually slows throughout the three stages of N-REM sleep so that by the third, you are in a semi-paralytic stage of deep sleep before entering REM. There are many health benefits to NREM sleep, such as building tissue, muscle and bone. You can find a more detailed breakdown of the sleep cycle on our blog.
Stage 4 (REM)
The first REM period of sleep usually lasts around 10 minutes, then gets longer in each cycle. During REM sleep, the amygdala (the part of the brain that interprets emotion) becomes active, processing experiences from the day. Although dreaming also occurs during other stages of sleep, REM sleep is when the most vivid dreaming takes place due to the engagement of the amygdala and memory processing.
The Importance of REM Cycles
Since it’s at the end of the sleep cycle, REM sleep leaves us at our most prepared to wake up for the day; waking up at any other stage of the sleep cycle will likely leave you feeling groggy and difficult to rouse.
Here are a few reasons why REM sleep shouldn’t be overlooked:
During REM, the brain filters through information acquired during the day and decides what to store or dismiss. Babies spend most of their time asleep in REM sleep, suggesting that this stage promotes brain development.
In fact, studies have found that learning is often followed by longer time spent in REM sleep, both in animals and humans. In one study, one group of college students had a nap before taking a test and another group did not. Those who napped did better in the test, and those that spent longer in REM sleep during the nap performed best overall.
We experience a wide range of thoughts and feelings throughout the day. From stress to happiness, there’s a lot that goes on in our 12 hours. REM sleep is believed to help us process our emotions, by allowing certain parts of the amygdala to shut down.
How Much REM Sleep Do You Need?
With the importance of REM sleep established, you may be wondering “How long does REM sleep last?” One full sleep cycle takes approximately 90 minutes, so try to plan your sleep around this. For example, if you need to wake up at 7:00am, work backwards in increments of 90 to work out the best time to fall asleep. In this case, it would probably be around 11:30pm. This would give you 7 ½ hours of sleep out of the NHS’ recommended 6-9, as well as completing 6 full sleep cycles.
Bear in mind that you will need to add on the length of time it takes you to fall asleep once in bed, as this doesn’t come under one of the stages of sleep. As well as this, going to bed and waking up at the same time every night will help your body create a natural rhythm that will ultimately make sleeping easier.
How to Get More REM Sleep
Having a good pre-sleep routine will also help you sleep at night, such as avoiding screens, spending some time reading, or creating a to-do list for the next day that will stop you from lying awake and overthinking.
Sleep Better with Mattressman
Despite all of this, a routine can only do so much if you’re not comfortable enough to sleep in the first place. At Mattressman, we supply comfortable mattresses and bed frames that can help you fall into the deep sleep you deserve.