REM sleep, sounds a bit scientific doesn’t it? REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and it happens to be one of the stages within the sleep cycle.
There’s light sleep and deep sleep. And then there’s REM sleep. But first, a few words about sleep overall…
What is sleep?
We all know sleep is when we nod off. But what does it involve exactly? What happens with our brain and our body every night?
When we sleep, neurotransmitters, the nerve-signalling chemicals in our bodies, stop producing serotonin and norepinephrine, which keeps our brain active and awake. Instead, these neurons switch off. At the same time, a chemical known as adenosine, builds up in our blood, causing drowsiness.1
There are five different stages of sleep:2
- Stage 1: Light sleep – when we’re awake and just fall asleep.
- Stage 2: The onset of sleep – when sleep kicks in and our body temperature drops.
- Stages 3 & 4: Is when the deepest and most restorative form of sleep happens. Stage 4 is often referred to as the ‘healing phase’ because it’s when tissue growth and repair takes place, hormones are released and energy’s restored.
- REM: Takes place around 90 minutes after falling asleep and again every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night.
Why do we need sleep?
Well, us human beings happen to spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, which gives you an indicator of just how essential it is.3
Sleeping does lots of things to our bodies and our brain, the most important of which includes, consolidating our memories (our brain takes our experiences and moves them from our short to our long-term memory).
Overall, sleep also enables us to recharge our bodies and our brain. That’s why you’ll find babies and children need much more sleep than adults; it’s fuels their physical and mental development.4
How much shuteye do we need?
Well, it depends on how old you are.5 Generally speaking, most adults need between 6 to 9 hours of sleep every night.6 Meanwhile, children need anything from between 16.5 hours a day (1 week old baby) to 9 hours a night (16-year-old).7
What does REM sleep mean?
REM sleep happens in cycles throughout the night. The first REM sleep cycle kicks in around 90 minutes after you fall asleep and then recurs every 90 minutes.
In terms of what it means, it’s when your eyes move around quickly (even though your eyelids are shut). It’s at this point that your brainwaves are actually on the same scale as somebody who is awake and your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are near-waking levels. You’re very active, yet you’re asleep!
It’s during REM sleep that you’re most likely to dream and when your brain’s busy filing away your experiences in your long-term memory bank.8,9
How much REM sleep do you need?
Are you now thinking, ‘How much REM sleep do I need?’ There aren’t any official figures out there in relation to how many hours of REM sleep you should clock up every night.
However, it’s thought that it accounts for 20 to 25% of the average adult sleep cycle.10 What’s more, not having much REM sleep can make us feel groggy and make it more difficult for us to concentrate.11
Is it possible to have too much REM sleep?
Unfortunately, you can’t programme your body to give you certain amounts of sleep each night. And, as you’ve probably already figured out, we don’t always experience all of the phases of sleep every single night.
If you wind up having too much REM sleep, i.e. over 25%, then you’re most probably going to feel it. It’s not uncommon to feel angry and irritable because your brain’s been too busy while you’ve been sleeping.12
How to get more REM sleep
Getting into good sleeping habits can help increase the amount of sleep you get, REM sleep included. Tips include:13
- Having a hot bath before bed – which will warm up your core temperature which, in turn, can potentially promote more slow wave sleep
- Making sure you have a bedtime routine
- Avoiding caffeine before bed (read ‘Drinks to make you sleep’)
- Regularly exercising
- Winding down– e.g. by reading a book or listening to chilled music; lo-fi music, may be an option
- Not overdoing it on the carbs (read ‘Foods you should eat for a better night’s sleep’)
- Being comfy in bed – making sure your mattress, duvet and bedding are nice and cosy
We hope you’re feeling a bit more clued up about REM sleep now? Want to delve a bit deeper into the wonderful world of sleep? Have a read of this, ‘Seven crazy things that can happen when you sleep.’
Last updated: 16 September 2020