When you go to sleep, your brain goes through many different sleep stages. Of these, one of the most well-known is REM sleep. Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the period of sleep in which you have most of your dreams. 

In fact, your brain is the most active during this stage of sleep. So, how does REM sleep affect your daily life and physical health? 

Why is REM sleep important, and how much REM sleep should you get? Answering these questions can vastly improve your sleep and your overall quality of life.

What is REM sleep? 

Most sleepers want to know, when does REM sleep occur? REM sleep is a stage of sleep that happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. However, you can go into a REM sleep state several times throughout the night. 

In this sleep state, some characteristics of REM sleep include: your eyes moving rapidly from side to side beneath your closed eyelids, an increase in brain activity, and sleep paralysis of your arms and other muscles. In contrast to non-REM sleep, our brain waves during REM sleep resembles brain activity during wakefulness. 

What happens during REM sleep? The REM sleep cycle is the state of sleep where most of your dreaming happens. Your heart rate increases and your breathing becomes more irregular. 

You also need substantial REM sleep for your memory and emotional regulation. When you sleep, your brain clears things out and makes memories. This process is necessary, so that you can function properly. Emotional regulation is a necessary part of your life, and it’s how you manage and respond to all the emotions in your life. 

How much REM sleep do I need?

Although professionals haven’t agreed on set amount of REM sleep that you need, the process is important. You will generally spend about 20-25% percent of your night in REM sleep.

However, if you get too much REM sleep you could be suffering from depression. Too much sleep can be a symptom of another health-related issue and is not a good thing, so you should stick to around seven to nine hours a night.

How to get more REM sleep

Since REM sleep is so important to your health, getting the proper amount of REM sleep is essential to the success of your day. Many sleepers want to know how to increase REM sleep. 

Thankfully, there are several things you can do to help. 

Reduce the amount of alcohol before bed 

Drinking alcohol can delay your REM sleep and can also reduce your REM sleep stages throughout the night. 

Get exercise

Working out will increase the amount of REM sleep you get. Plus, working out is also positive for other areas of your life as well. 

Depression

Suffering from depression and stress can reduce your quality of sleep and disrupt your REM cycles. 

Practice positive sleep hygiene

Going to bed at the same time every night and following the same routine can improve your REM sleep. Your brain loves a good bedtime routine, so you will fall asleep faster and your REM will be more consistent. 

How much REM sleep do you need? 

Every person is different, but you can do things to improve your REM sleep. You should try these tips if you feel like you aren’t getting the proper amount of REM sleep. 

Remember to document what works and what doesn’t, so you can narrow down your sleep problems and solutions. 

Deep Sleep Vs. REM Sleep

Many sleepers confuse REM sleep and deep sleep. Is REM sleep deep sleep? No. There are many differences between these sleep states. Deep sleep is also known as slow-wave sleep, which is responsible for repairing different parts of the body. This sleep state occurs during the 3rd phase of NREM. Throughout the night, your body will go through cycles of sleep stages to get the rest you need. 

Here are some of the main points: 

What happens during REM sleep? 

  • The REM stage usually begins after about 90 minutes of sleeping.
  • Your heart beats faster and is irregular.
  • Muscle tone is low throughout the total REM sleep time
  • Your brain is more active, and you experience vivid dreams.
  • For children, this is the sleep stage where bedwetting and sleepwalking happen.
  • REM can last around 10 minutes per cycle, but cycles occur around three to four times per night. 

What happens during deep sleep?

  • Deep sleep takes place anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes after you fall asleep.
  • Breathing slows down and your heartbeat is regular.
  • This is the phase of sleep where the tissues in your body heal themselves.
  • You won’t dream during this phase of sleep.
  • If you do wake up during this phase, you’ll feel disoriented and groggy.
  • This can last from one to two hours and makes up about 20-25% of your sleep.
  • You might need more or less deep sleep depending on your body. 

  • Other ways to improve REM sleep

    Having healthy REM sleep greatly impacts your life, but how much REM sleep is normal? How can you tell that you aren’t getting enough REM sleep? 

    If you’re waking up exhausted, there is something amiss in your sleep schedule. Substances have been shown to affect your REM sleep. If you’re wondering how to increase REM sleep, you should avoid these substances before bed:

    • Caffeine 
    • Alcohol 
    • Marijuana
    • Pain medications
    • Lithium 
    • Antidepressant medications 
    • Certain anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines

    Sleep apnea has also been shown to greatly affect REM sleep. Sleep apnea occurs when you stop breathing throughout the night. There are masks that you can wear, and ways that you can treat sleep apnea. Once your sleep apnea is treated, you will find yourself with healthier REM sleep cycles. Sleep apnea can be diagnosed using a polysomnogram in a clinical sleep study. 

    REM sleep behavior disorder

    Besides sleep apnea, there are other sleep disorders that can affect your REM sleep. When you suffer from REM sleep behavior disorder, you act out your dreams. 

    Your body is paralyzed in REM sleep, so that you don’t physically move while you’re dreaming. So, when you have this disorder you can actually talk in your sleep, hit, punch, or even shout. Some sleepers awake to find themselves sitting completely upright in their sleep. REM sleep behavior disorder can be dangerous to the sleeper and anyone that shares the same bed. 

    This disorder can easily be mistaken for other conditions, which is why a medical professional needs to diagnose it. To treat REM sleep behavior disorder, diagnosed patients take medication such as clonazepam to help them sleep without interruption. They will no longer move during their REM cycles.

    What happens with lack of REM sleep?

    When you don’t receive healthy sleep or skip out on this crucial phase of sleep, you will feel the effects throughout the day. You could be: moody, anxious, distracted, groggy, and tired. With a lack of REM sleep, you can specifically find yourself struggling with: 

    Poor coping skills

    Studies of animals have shown struggle with their coping skills if they don’t receive proper REM sleep. They can also have poor reactions to threatening situations. So, you could have a hard time emotionally and physically handling issues in your life. You could turn to arguments instead of having constructive conversations.[1]

    Migraines

    Lack of REM sleep has been found to cause migraines. Losing out on your REM sleep leads to sleep deprivation, which affects the proteins in your body associated with pain thresholds. Changes in these protein levels encourage migraines.[2]

    Weight gain

    Those without proper sleep schedules tend to be overweight. When you are missing out on your sleep, you can find that your entire schedule is off. Routine encourages physical activity, healthy eating habits, and a healthy weight. Lack of REM sleep throws off your body’s energy, which makes it easier to be overweight. Sleep deprivation has even been linked to the regulation of hunger-inducing hormones.[3] 

    It’s never too late to change your sleep patterns

    Every person is different, but we all require healthy sleep. If you find yourself struggling with your sleep schedule, you need to change it. You should look at your sleep routine to ensure that you have good habits in place that reinforce a well-functioning circadian rhythm.

    This bedtime routine could be the reason that you aren’t getting your REM sleep. For example, if you have a late coffee in the early afternoon, it could be impacting your REM sleep state. 

    Cutting out that afternoon caffeine by switching your coffee to decaf or herbal tea could turn your sleep schedule around. It’s trial and error, but you can get better sleep with a few sleep hygiene changes

    Most importantly, don’t give up!

    A good night’s sleep is just around the corner. There are many tips you can follow to improve your REM sleep. 

    Remember, everyone is different, so you have to find what works for you. If you start today, you could be sleeping better within a week. So, what are you waiting for? Start your journey to better REM sleep today. 

    Glossary

    Deep sleep: A restorative process for the body, comprised of Stage 3/4 and REM.

    REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: A disorder characterized by disruptions in muscle paralysis during REM sleep, leading individuals to physically act out their dreams. 

    Circadian rhythm: Our internal biological clock that plays an essential role in regulating and maintaining our sleep-wake times, eating cycles, and hormonal cycles.

    Sleep hygiene: The different practices, habits, and behaviors that one should adopt in order to both get better sleep at night and be more alert during the day.