According to researchers, there are four cycles of sleep and each cycle further consists of four stages. REM sleep refers to the fourth and final phase of the sleep cycle followed by three stages of non-REM sleep.
The name REM comes from Rapid Eye Movement that takes place during this stage of sleep and other physiological changes that occur while one is in the REM sleep phase.
Some changes that take place during this phase of sleep include:
- Rapid Eye Movement (eyes move from right to left or left to right in a rapid speed)
- Muscle Relaxation (muscle tone drops to the lowest point causing virtual paralysis)
- Accelerated Respiration (irregular breathing) &
- Increased Brain Activity
What happens is that the body becomes virtually paralyzed during REM Sleep, which in turn helps the body to prevent us from acting out our dreams. If REM sleep didn’t cause our bodies to become virtually paralyzed, we would be at stake of causing ourselves and others around us injury or property damage. That is why REM sleep is quite a significant stage of our sleep cycle.
REM sleep is extensively researched because it is the stage in which most dreams occur to a person. Therefore, it is thought that REM sleep plays an important role in memory, learning, and moods/behavior of individuals. REM sleep consists of vivid dreams that a person sees during this stage and while, dreams don’t always mean something, they are an integral part of our sleep.
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What stage is REM Sleep?
While the first three stages of sleep known as N1, N2, and N3 are marked by non-rapid eye movement, REM sleep refers to the fourth stage and is marked by rapid eye movement during sleep.
It occurs at the end of each sleep cycle after around 90 minutes of falling asleep. The cycle continues throughout the night and REM occurs as the last stage of each cycle.
As for the duration of REM sleep, the first phase usually lasts for less than 10 minutes. With every sleep cycle, the duration of REM keeps getting longer and the final phase may even last for up to an hour.
What Happens During REM Sleep?
Research has found out that REM sleep is one of the most significant stages of sleep. During this stage, the human body goes through different physiological changes that later influence other bodily functions such as the development of the brain, benefit in learning, memory, and impacts of mood.
REM sleep helps people in remembering the things they learn while they are awake so that they can retain the information or knowledge they have gained. REM sleep also contributes to long-term memory and a lack of REM sleep could lead to having adverse effects on long-term memory.
From what research and healthcare professionals have deduced, if a person does not get enough REM sleep, it may start to adversely affect their physical and emotional health in the long run. Therefore, apart from a sound non-REM sleep, it is essential to get a significant amount of REM sleep for the brain and body to carry out their functions properly.
What is REM Sleep behavior disorder?
Normal REM sleep occurs when the body is virtually paralyzed and prevents us from acting out our dreams. In some people, a disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder occurs in which the paralysis is not experienced. This causes the person to act out their dreams. People affected by RBD usually display the following behaviors while they are asleep:
- They talk
- Grab and make various movements during the episode
It can be explained through an example of a person who dreams of falling and jerk their foot as a result. Or somebody while dreaming of something scary or thrilling might start talking or shouting as if they are experiencing it in real-time.
Unlike sleepwalking, in REM sleep behavior disorder, the person can vividly remember the details from their dream. They act out responses to the things they experience in their dreams whereas, in sleepwalking, one does not remember or know what they are doing while in sleep.
REM sleep behavior disorder usually occurs in males who are above the age of 50. Some existing health conditions can contribute to developing a REM sleep behavior disorder however, sometimes the part of the brain that virtually paralyzes muscles during sleep stops working and results in RBD.
REM behavior disorder can be treated with a combination of medication and other precautions. Apart from medication, which has proved to be a successful treatment, there are certain precautions that need to be taken before going to bed every night. For example, removing objects away from the bedside might save you or the person you are sleeping with, from any kind of trouble that may occur as a result of RBD.
What is a good percentage of REM Sleep?
The percentage of REM sleep varies in people of different ages. In infants, REM sleep is thought to constitute almost 50% of the total sleep. This duration is healthy and necessary for the growth and development of infants.
As for adults, the duration depends on age and the total duration of REM sleep keeps decreasing with the passage of time and age. An adult getting at least one hour of REM sleep apart from Non-REM sleep is considered to be sufficient depending on the sleep cycle they are on.
All in all, there is no specific duration of REM sleep however, if the duration increases with every sleep cycle, then that is a good sign that the person is getting enough REM sleep. A total of 90-110 minutes of REM is considered to be healthy and fulfills an average person’s REM sleep requirement. A lack of REM sleep can lead to sleep disorders and can cause various emotional and physical health issues.
How to Achieve REM Sleep?
In order to get a sufficient amount of REM sleep, it is important to inculcate certain habits that would aid in getting you your desired REM sleep. Here are some ways you can allow yourself to achieve REM sleep easily and more consistently as part of your everyday sleep cycle:
- Make a habit of exercising daily. Be it walk, yoga, swimming, jogging, or any other kind of physical activity, it will automatically help your body to have a sound sleep at night, increasing the duration and quality of your REM sleep.
- Set a specific time for your sleep and waking up. Disciplined bedtime will allow you to enter N1, N2, N3, and REM easily and would make waking up even easier.
- Manage your stress in more creative ways so that when you go to bed, your brain does not have to carry the burden of daily life stressors. Practicing meditation, writing a journal, and practicing gratitude are great ways to manage stress and help in more deep, peaceful REM sleep.
- Lastly, what you eat and drink not only affects your body but also your brain and consequently, the quality of your sleep. Therefore, it is pertinent to take care of all the relevant factors that contribute to good sleep and help the body in experiencing longer durations of REM Sleep.