What is REM sleep?
Have you ever seen someone when they’re sleeping, their eyelids are moving rapidly and it looks like they’re in the middle of some hectic dreams?
This is REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement and it’s one of the stages of sleep you visit each night when you fall asleep.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is vital to maintain a healthy body and mind. When we don’t get enough sleep, have poor quality sleep or interrupted sleep our mental and physical health is impaired.
Sleep not only gives our body the chance to rest and make repairs, but it aids learning, cognitive functioning, processing emotions and consolidating memories.
Our time asleep is spent across 4 different sleep stages, each one providing our bodies the time they need to repair and rest. Whilst we are sleeping the body hibernates and slows certain processes to enable us to recuperate from our exertions during wakefulness.
We’ll spend the night gently moving from one sleep stage to the next, going through up to 6 complete sleep cycles each night when we have an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
Studies have shown that brain activity differs between these sleep cycle stages, and each has different characteristics.
What are the different stages of sleep?
The stages of sleep 1 – 3 are known as NREM sleep stages, or non-rapid eye movement sleep.
Stage 1 is the initial falling asleep where we sometimes doze before falling asleep properly. During this stage our brain and body begins to slow down. This stage is characterized by occasional twitching, which is more common in men than women. If uninterrupted whilst asleep, we will spend the least amount of time sleeping in stage 1.
Stage 2 follows, and this is where our muscles begin to relax, our breathing slows, our heart rate slows and our temperature drops. Our brain activity is generally reduced, and we’ll spend around half the night in stage 2 sleep as we move through our sleep cycles.
Stage 3 is known as deep sleep and it this is when our body and brain is at its least active during sleep. It is harder to wake someone from sleep stage 3 and when woken, the sleeper may be disorientated initially.
It is thought we spend more time in this sleep stage during the first half of the night and that this type of sleep is best for our body and brains growth and recovery.
REM sleep follows sleep stage 3 and also precedes it as we move through our sleep cycle. REM sleep is characterized by the movement of the eyes behind our eyelids, and this is the stage we dream most often.
Activity in our brains increases to an almost waking level of activity and we dream our most vivid dreams during REM.
It is believed that REM sleep is vital for cognitive functioning and that we spend around a quarter of the time asleep in this state.
Experts believe that REM and dreaming help us with emotional processing, consolidating memories and brain development.
Lack of sleep
When we get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, we move from one stage of sleep to another and spend time in each of these states. Experts believe that each stage is essential for the restoration of our bodies which is why a lack of sleep can affect our ability to function so profoundly.
Ensuring we get a good night’s sleep is vital for feeling our best during the day.
Blocking out light by using 3D sleep masks can help ensure a good night’s sleep, if you’re a light sleeper, or try one of our light pods for creating a calming environment before bed.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep, read our blog on how to get to sleep fast for our top tips for falling asleep. How to fix your sleep schedule is also important when trying to improve your quality and quantity of sleep.