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What Is REM Sleep & Why Is It Important?

What Is REM Sleep & Why Is It Important?

One in three Canadians do not get enough sleep at night. How do you make sure you’re getting the right amount of rest? When you’re trying to wake up feeling less groggy, knowing how to tell the difference between REM sleep and the other stages of sleep is important.

A good night’s sleep has the power to make a really meaningful impact on your well-being. Studies show proper sleep can improve memory, focus, help with maintaining a healthy weight, and even improve athletic performance.

So what exactly are the stages of sleep, and why is it important to know what REM sleep actually is? Here’s everything you need to know:

What are the stages of sleep?

Have you ever woken up feeling tired, despite getting enough sleep? Getting familiar with the stages of sleep can help you understand what’s going wrong. Your sleep cycle is divided into roughly two categories:

NREM Sleep: NREM sleep stands for non-rapid eye movement, and occurs across four different stages while you’re sleeping. The first stage is also the lightest phase, during which you can be woken up pretty easily.

In the second stage, your breathing begins to slow down, and your muscles relax. In the third and fourth stages, also known as deep sleep, your breathing, heartbeat, and brain waves all reach their lowest levels, and you’re unlikely to get woken up during this time.

REM Sleep: REM stands for rapid eye movement, and refers to the phase of sleep in which your eyes move back and forth underneath your closed eyelids. Dreaming most commonly occurs during this stage of sleep.

Why is REM sleep so important?

Why is REM sleep so important? | Puffy

Experts have found that we do most of our processing during REM sleep. REM sleep also stimulates the areas in our brain that have been found to be responsible for learning and memory consolidation.

Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, tested REM sleep deprivation on rats in a laboratory. The rats were split into two groups, with one group deprived of REM sleep. Results revealed that the sleep-deprived group suffered shorter life expectancies, weight loss, and poor energy when compared to the control group, stressing the importance of a full night’s sleep.

Getting enough REM sleep also ensures you don’t wake up in the mornings feeling groggy, which can happen when you wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle. To prevent this, try using a sleep calculator to work out when you might need to wake up and go to bed every night.

How to get enough REM sleep each night

How to get enough REM sleep each night | Puffy

There are two ways you can ensure you’re getting the right amount of REM sleep every night. The first is to make use of a sleep calculator that ensures you’re able to plan your sleep schedule appropriately. Sleep schedules use average lengths of sleep cycles to estimate how long you need to be asleep for, which can be especially helpful when you’re trying to wake up feeling fully rested.

The second way to keep your REM sleep in check is to improve the overall quality of your sleep. If you’re waking up several times a night, tossing and turning before you get into bed, or having nightmares frequently, chances are you are not experiencing the high-quality sleep that you require for a healthy sleep cycle. Focusing on your sleep hygiene so that you’re able to enjoy a deeper night’s sleep will ensure you’re experiencing each stage of sleep at its fullest.

What is REM sleep behaviour disorder?

REM sleep behaviour disorder is a condition that affects less than one percent of the population and occurs most commonly in men over the age of fifty. The main symptoms of REM sleep behaviour disorder include moving, kicking and punching in response to vivid or frightening dreams.

Other signs of REM sleep behaviour disorder include yelling or crying while you’re sleeping, as well as the ability to vividly remember a dream you’re experiencing, even after you’ve woken up. People who struggle with REM sleep behaviour disorder put themselves and their partners at risk of physical injury, with over 60% of spouses of those diagnosed report having been injured during their sleep.

REM sleep behaviour disorder can be indicative of more serious disorders later on, including Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, or multiple symptom atrophy, all within 13 years. The symptoms can also be brought about as a side effect of antidepressants, serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors in particular.

Tips to improve your sleep hygiene

So how exactly do you work on your sleep hygiene? A few simple tips can make all the difference to your bedtime routine, and keep you resting better than ever:

  • Invest in the best mattress for your comfort: A comfortable mattress can transform your sleep routine, and keep you feeling better rested. Figuring out where you might be encountering trouble in your sleep and working backwards from there can help you find a mattress suited to your needs. For instance, do you wake up often with night sweats? If so, the best mattress for you will have advanced cooling features to ensure this doesn’t happen.
  • Avoid your phone and other devices before bed: The blue light present in your phones, tablets and laptops can actually disrupt the production of melatonin, which can make it much more challenging to get a good night’s sleep. Try to spend the last few hours of your evenings away from devices to see the effect it has on your sleep cycle.
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evenings: Caffeine can stay in your system up to eight hours after it has been ingested, which means any coffee or caffeinated tea you have after midday can have a disruptive effect on your sleep. Alcohol has a similarly disruptive impact on sleep. It might feel like that glass of wine helps you get to sleep faster, but if you’re waking up in between your sleep, it might just be to blame.
  • Begin a mindfulness practice: If you experience high amounts of sleep anxiety as you’re winding down, or you struggle with chronic nightmares, it might be helpful to develop a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has been proven to have a naturally calming, soothing effect on the mind and body, and it can be useful to use when you’re trying to relax enough to wind down for the night.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of your sleep cycle. Prioritizing your comfort and making sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep will allow you to harness all the positive effects proper rest can have on your well-being. With these tips, you’ll be able to get your REM back with ease.

Your Turn...

Do you have trouble getting a good night's sleep? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.

Certified Sleep Science Coach

Written by Teresa Francis, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Teresa Francis is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and full-time writer focused on well-being and sleep health. She’s written on a variety of topics, from what’s trending in bedroom decor to the way lifestyle influences sleep. Some of the subject areas she covers for Puffy include the best foods for better sleep, how new parents can catch up on rest, and the best way to become a morning person. Teresa has a Master’s Degree in Literature, and has always believed in the power of a good bedtime story.

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