Are you waking up cranky, tired or moody? You’ve probably heard that is a consequence of not getting a good night’s sleep, but why?

While we’re sleeping, the brain goes through five different stages that are repeated several times during one sleep cycle. REM (or, rapid eye movement) is one of these stages. The other four stages are known as non-REM sleep.

REM is thought to have an influence over how we learn, memory formation and our mood. This is why not getting enough REM sleep can have severe consequences to our health.

REM Sleep: What Is It?

REM sleep happens many times a night. REM sleep represents between 20 and 25 percent of the sleep cycle of an adult, and more than 50 percent of the sleep cycle of an infant. Most of our dreams happen during this stage of the sleep cycle.

Our brain goes through several REM sleep stages during the night; the first one is usually short, no more than 10 minutes, and they get longer as the night progresses, so that the last REM sleep stage can last an hour.

During this time, the brain is the most active, close to waking levels of activity. The body also experiences changes in body temperature, higher heart rate, faster breathing, higher blood pressure, and rapid movement of the eyes (hence the name of this stage).

The brain is most active during REM sleep, even though the body is mostly still. This is because dreams during this stage are so vivid that the body becomes temporarily paralyzed so that it does not act out those dreams.

Other Stages of the Sleep Cycle

The sleep cycle does not begin with REM sleep. First, the brain goes through four stages known as non-REM sleep.

In each of these stages, our sleep gets progressively deeper. Stages 3 and 4 are when we officially enter into deep sleep, or delta sleep. This is when our body has a chance to repair damage tissue and grow new ones. These restorative sleep stages are responsible for our body’s energy being renewed.

Why is REM Sleep Necessary?

Although the research on sleep is nowhere near completed, it is widely believe that REM sleep is closely related to mood, memory, and learning, as well as the development of the brain during infancy.

Several studies have suggested that people who can’t enter REM sleep during the night can’t easily remember something they learned before going to sleep. It has also been suggested that not achieving REM sleep for several days can damage the brain cells in charge of long-term memory.

In infants, research has indicated that REM sleep is when mature neural connections are formed. This could explain why children have longer REM sleep stages in their sleep cycle.

What Can Happen if You Don’t Get Enough REM Sleep?

Aside from possibly having trouble remembering something you learned the night before, and experiencing some problems with long-term memories, there can be other consequences.

It is suggested that not getting enough REM sleep can cause migraines and an excess of weight during childhood and adolescence.

How Can You Get More REM Sleep?

While there is no specific way to stimulate our brain to enter more REM stages, we can take action in improving the quality of our sleep, which will enhance every sleep stage in the cycle.

  • Get the sleep you need: For an adult, the optimal sleep-time is between 7 and 9 hours each night. When you sleep less than seven hours, you reduce the number of stages your brain has the chance to go through.
  • Have a Regular Routine: Your body is wired to go through 24-hour cycles. If you train your body to sleep and wake at a regular time, your body will become used to it and that will increase the quality of your sleep.
  • Avoid Distractions: Try using white or pink noise to block other distracting sounds or wearing a sleeping mask to keep lights from waking you up. Try to develop a relaxing routine before you go to bed, and keep your electronic devices turned off or far away from you. Warm temperatures can also wake you, so keep a lower temperature while you sleep.
  • Take Care of Your Health: Some medical conditions, like sleep apnea can diminish the quality of your sleep. Addressing this issue will not only improve your health in general, but also your sleep will not be so interrupted.
  • No Alcohol Before Bed: While it is true that alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, it has been known to prevent you from achieving the REM sleep stage. The more quantity consumed, the more affected is this stage. Aside from delaying the start of REM sleep, alcohol can interrupt your sleep-in other ways, such as interrupting your circadian rhythm or increasing the need to go to the bathroom.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

The REM sleep stage is when we experience our most vivid dreams. Kallysleep pillow experts says that normally, our brain tells our nervous system to paralyze our muscles so that we don’t act out these dreams. With REM sleep behavior disorder (or RBD), this paralysis does not happen.

People who suffer from RBD actually acts out those vivid dreams and might yell, kick or flail their limbs. The symptoms usually get worse as time goes on.  

REM sleep behavior disorder can be treated with medication and by making certain changes to the patient’s sleep environment. Treatments also include increasing the safety of the affected person, as well as their bedmate, should they have one.

As you can see, the REM sleep stage is very important for the development of many of our brain’s functions, as well as affecting our mood on a daily basis.

Taking steps to improve the quality of our sleep has been proven to have long-term positive results, as well as affecting out health in the short term. Small adjustments can go a long way.

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