What Is REM Sleep?

There two main types of sleep, or ways of sleeping. The first is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and the other is non-REM. It’s during REM sleep that we dream, although only about 25% of our time sleeping is spent in this state.

What does REM stand for?

REM, also known as paradoxical sleep, stands for Rapid Eye Movement. It is a phase of the sleep cycle in which the eyes move rapidly, muscle tone falls and dreams are much more detailed.

REM Sleep Stages

The stages on REM sleep are:

Stage One:

This first stage of REM sleep lasts for five to ten minutes, beginning when you first start to feel drowsy and sleepy. During stage one, you can be easily ‘woken’ up or brought to attention with a touch or sound. In fact, most people when snapped out of stage one of non-REM sleep probably wouldn’t even say that they even fell asleep. Nevertheless, stage one represents the first part of falling asleep—we all have to go through it to reach the next stage of sleep.

Stage Two:

10 or 15 minutes in, you enter stage two: light sleep. Your eyes, which in stage one were moving slowly under your eyelids, now stop moving altogether. Also, your heart rate slows down and body temperature decreases. The next two stages of sleep can be grouped together.

Stages Three & Four:

Stages three and four can be considered deep sleep. Once you’ve reached these stages of sleep, you will take a little while to wake up properly if shaken or called. You’ll tend to feel groggy and disoriented for a moment before readjusting to normal consciousness.

After 70-90 minutes, you enter REM sleep.

Your eyes will flicker and dart rapidly in different directions during this time, while your breathing becomes more rapid, shallow and irregular. You have between three and five episodes of REM sleep each night—after each one ends, the sleep cycle repeats itself until you finally wake up in the morning. That is, if you don’t suffer from insomnia, or disturbed sleep.

Later on you’ll see how special techniques and tactics can be used to help you transition more easily and effectively into stage one of sleep, to stage two and onwards, into an interrupted set of cycles until the morning time.

Why is REM Sleep Important?

REM sleep may only be small part of your nightly sleep but it has a major impact on the quality of your sleep, overall mental health and even development in children! During this phase of deep sleep your brain repairs and refreshes and prepares the rest of your body for the next day. Stay up all night and miss an your REM cycles – you won’t die but you may feel mentally slow the next day and need a nap after lunch.

What are the effects of not getting enough REM sleep?

Not getting enough REM sleep can have extreme consequences. Studies have shown that individuals that do not get enough REM sleep experience more stress, have trouble with long term memory and can have trouble concentrating during the day as well as a number of other life altering side effects. 

These side effects can have long term consequences to your health and can even impact things like weight problems, coping skills and can be more sensitive to pain. One effective way to try to get more REM sleep is to use a sleep mask.

Is Dreaming a Sign of REM Sleep?

Dreaming is possible outside of REM sleep however the most intense, memorable dreams take place during REM sleep. While dreaming in REM sleep you may feel “paralyzed” due to your voluntary muscles relaxing while only your vital organs continue to function. This is called REM atonia and is your body protecting itself from having a physical reaction to your dreams.

Why are the eyes not paralyzed during REM sleep?

The eyes are controlled by a different neurological system of the body that functions separately from the muscular system. The eyes are directly connected to the brain by nerves instead of working through the spinal cord like your muscles. While the rest of your body is paralyzed during REM sleep for your protection by REM atonia your eyes are left free to move since it can not can any physical harm.

Does marijuana suppress REM sleep?

Yes, marijuana has been shown to reduce the time your spend in REM sleep at night. In Fact, studies have shown that quitting after long term use led to shorter REM cycles as well as a number of other sleep problems.

If you have recently quit using marijuana you might experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Waking up feeling unrested

Is their any way to induce REM sleep?

Getting enough REM sleep is key to waking up feeling refreshed. Science has not found a medicine that can force REM sleep however teams of researchers have been able to increase the number of sleep cycles in mice by stimulating cholinergic neurons. To extend or induce your REM sleep try these tips:

  • Keep a nightly schedule
  • Maintain a dream journal
  • Avoid using your phone while laying in bed
  • Don’t drink alcohol
  • Take an occasional nap

Melatonin and REM sleep

Melatonin effects the body circadian rhythm and natural sleep cycles. Recent sleep studies have shown that taking as little as 1 mg of Melatonin before bed can help you fall asleep faster, experience longer REM cycles and wake up feeling better in the morning

Stress and REM Sleep

Stress can impact every part of sleep, including REM sleep. If you are stressed because of your job, financial trouble or other life events it can be difficult to even fall asleep!

Sleepwalking and REM Sleep

While the eyes may be moving during REM sleep sleepwalking only happens during non REM sleep which occurs earlier in the sleep cycle. Other actions like hand, arm and leg movements may also occur but these are considered normal movements caused by dreams in this stage of sleep.

REM sleep behavior disorder on the other hand is a sleep disorder which causes individuals to attempt to act out the contents of their dreams, sometimes with dangerous results. This may seem similar to sleepwalking however sleepwalkers typically have no memory of their experience while people with RBD are able to recall their dream and experiences.

Marie Seska

Marie Seska

Marie Seska is one of the most trusted sources on the net for sleep information. She searches the web - as well as the latest medical journals to bring her readers the latest news and information.

Leave a Comment