What is REM Sleep and Why Do We Need It?
5 min read
Last Modified 18 August 2021 First Added 6 August 2021
Sleeping isn’t just about laying and relaxing in bed. Your body and brain have a lot on whilst you get your shut-eye. In fact, you go through various stages of sleep when you rest at night. It’s quite an intense process, and during these cycles, you’ll go through NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In this post we’ll take a look at REM sleep and why it’s important for your health.
You may not be able to tell if you’re in REM sleep (as you’re asleep at the time!), but you can tell if someone else is in a REM sleep stage. Signs of REM include:
Other signs that you’ll not be able to see, but can happen in the body during REM include:
In total, an adult needs around 90 minutes of REM sleep a night. This should work out as between 20-25% of your typical 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Though the required amount of REM is much higher in infants who need about 50% of REM sleep.
REM sleep is an important part of the sleep process and has various important functions that are different to those of N-REM and deep sleep. Though getting the correct amount of all types of sleep is likely to be important, REM affects certain areas of your body. Here are some of the reasons why REM sleep is important:
Learning and memory – There are studies that suggest that if people are unable to get REM sleep, they have difficulty with their memory. One study suggested those not getting enough REM sleep have difficulty remembering what they were taught before they fell asleep. Another study showed that not getting enough REM for just 4 days affected cell proliferation in the part of the brain that contributes to long-term memory.
Central Nervous System (CNS) development – It’s thought that REM sleep is important for brain development in babies. One study suggests that REM is responsible for neural stimulation that is needed to develop mature neural connections.
Not getting enough REM can have negative effects on your overall health. Various research has linked a lack of REM sleep to:
If you’re worried about whether you’re getting enough quality REM sleep, there are ways you can help to improve this. Most of these ways are also general tips for sleeping better, which will have a knock-on effect for your REM sleep.
Another way to improve REM sleep is to avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker, but the quality of your sleep is impacted. Studies have shown that the total nightly REM is reduced by moderate to high alcohol intake.
Related: Does Alcohol Affect How We Sleep?
The best way to improve your REM sleep is to simply get enough quality sleep. It’s an important part of your nightly sleep cycles, which can affect overall health. Sleep is important for your wellbeing, so don’t let it slip and try to make sure that you’re getting enough!