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REM sleep is a critical part of your sleep pattern every night. How much you get affects your energy level, your ability to learn, your memory and your overall health. Learn more about the benefits of REM sleep, what can rob you of REM sleep and how you can get all that you need.

What is REM Sleep?

Did you know there is a lot going on in your mind and body when you are asleep? It’s true. You may not be aware of it, but your brain cycles through five different stages of sleep several times every night. REM sleep is the fifth and arguably the most important of those stages.REM sleep helps renew your mind and plays an important role in your ability to learn and remember.

Without adequate REM sleep, even for one night, you are likely to feel tired the next day and not function at your optimal level. To better understand REM sleep, let’s briefly take a look the first four stages of sleep and what happens in each stage.

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The Five Stages of Sleep

Stage 1 is what you experience just as you are drifting off to sleep. Some people call it the twilight stage because you are still somewhat aware of your surroundings. This stage of very light sleep typically lasts about five minutes.During stage 2, your sleep is a little deeper but it is still light. If you hear a slight noise while in stage 2 you would easily wake up.

Stage 2 sleep lasts about 45-50 minutes.It is during stage 3 that you begin to fall into a deeper sleep, but this is a transition phase and only lasts about five minutes.In stage 4 you experience your deepest sleep, and it may be difficult for you to be awakened when you are in this stage. It lasts about 15 minutes.It takes about 70-90 minutes to pass through these first four stages of sleep. Each stage is a continuous progression toward stage 5 or REM sleep, which lasts about 25 minutes. Including REM, a complete sleep cycle takes 90-110 minutes, and most people go through four to six complete cycles per night.

Ideally, time in REM sleep should get progressively longer with each cycle as the amount of time spent in deep sleep (stage 4) decreases.

Dreaming and REM Sleep

REM is also the stage where you do most of your dreaming. If you’ve ever watched someone in REM sleep you would notice that their eyes, though closed, are moving back and forth rapidly as they dream.

This is how REM sleep gets its name. REM stands for rapid eye movement, and this movement of the eyes is your mind’s way of processing dreams you are experiencing.

Your Body in REM Sleep

When you move into REM sleep, your body reacts differently than in any of the other sleep stages.

Your:• breathing become more rapid and shallow• limbs no longer respond to voluntary control• blood pressure rises• heart rate increasesDuring REM sleep, your brain is organizing and processing the information you learned during the day. The brain is also hard at work making new nerve connections, healing tired muscles, strengthening your immune system and restoring your supply of mood-boosting chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

REM Sleep Thieves

Certain foods, beverages and medicines can affect how the brain and body work together to help you sleep. Some of the most common REM sleep disruptors are listed below.• Caffeine-laden drinks and foods, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate (especially if taken within a few hours of sleeping), can disrupt your ability to doze off or reach the restorative REM sleep.

• Many antidepressant medications can suppress REM sleep.• Smoking can cause you to sleep lightly and reduce the amount of REM sleep that you get each night.• Alcohol may help you fall into a light sleep but tends to rob you of deeper stage 4 and REM sleep that helps you feel rested.

Getting Your REM Sleep

Getting adequate REM sleep is critical for optimum day-to-day functioning.

You should try to shoot for no less than 7.5 hours of sleep a night. It will also help if you go to bed at the same time and wake at the same time each day. This helps your body get into a rhythm that will enhance your ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep all night.

If you are out of that rhythm or lacking sleep, your best option for getting more REM sleep is to try sleeping an extra 30-60 minutes in the morning. This strategy tends to give you more REM sleep because the amount of time you spend in the REM stage lengthens the longer you are asleep.

Learning Outcomes

Your outcome at the end of the lesson should be to:

  • Define REM sleep
  • List the five stages of sleep
  • Recall the physical responses to REM sleep
  • Understand the importance of REM sleep
  • Recognize some of the REM sleep disruptors

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