Good Housekeeping Editors, consulted with experts in sleep medicine to answer some common questions about REM sleep. In his article, Zee Krstic takes a close look at the functions and benefits of this important part of sleep health.
What is REM Sleep?
REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, is the sleep stage during which people dream most vividly. Sleep research has long shown the importance of REM sleep.
It is during this stage of sleep that the brain processes memories from the day. They become part of long-term memory. REM sleep also correlates with improved learning, mood, and other cognitive benefits.
Once you reach REM sleep, brain activity increases, dreams seem more real, and your muscles are temporarily paralyzed.
The Stages of Sleep
Krstic spoke with Kent Smith, DDS, President of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy about the stages of sleep. Four stages are repeated in a cycle several times through the night.
According to Smith non-REM, or NREM, sleep is as important as REM sleep. These crucial early stages can’t be bypassed, nor should they be.
NREM stage 1 sleep begins as you doze off and phases into NREM stage 2 as your body slows down and recovers from the activities of the day. Your brain slows down as well, and this is where you spend about half of your sleeping hours.
NREM stage 3 is deep sleep. Brain activity begins to increase and Smith notes that this stage is important for growth and recovery. Brain activity continues to increase as you enter stage 4, REM sleep.
The Importance of REM Sleep
Sleep medicine specialist Dr. Alcibiades Rodriguez weighs in on the negative effects of inadequate REM sleep. He and Smith agreed that risks include depression, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia.
Inadequate total sleep can also result in snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.
How to Get Enough REM Sleep
Ideally, adults spend 20% of their sleeping hours in REM sleep. Sleep cycles occur naturally, so the only way to get enough REM sleep is to get enough total sleep. You can do that naturally.
Keep bedtime consistent and get up at same time each morning. Make sure your room is darkened and put down electronics half an hour before bed. If you snack, keep it light and avoid alcohol and recreational drugs before bedtime.
Setting the stage for a good night’s sleep, including all the stages, is an important part of caring for your physical and emotional well-being.