What is REM Sleep and How You Can Increase It?

Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep is an important stage of the sleep cycle. REM sleep is essential for quality rest. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are often associated with a lack of REM sleep. If you’re missing out on REM sleep, you may benefit from taking some steps to improve your sleep quality. Keep reading to find out how to increase REM sleep.

Key takeaways:
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    REM sleep is an essential stage of sleep in which important brain changes occur.
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    Missing out on REM sleep can cause a variety of consequences.
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    Taking steps to improve your sleep quality can help to increase the amount of time your body spends in REM sleep.
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    Some natural supplements may help to boost REM sleep.
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    Deep sleep is different from REM sleep, both are important stages that ensure replenishing sleep.

What is REM sleep?

Sleep happens in cycles that involve phases of REM sleep and non-REM sleep. REM sleep happens after non-REM sleep and is usually when dreams occur. During REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly behind the eyelids. The brain is very active during this stage of sleep and the heart rate even increases. Even though some parts of the body are more active during REM sleep, most of your muscles become temporarily paralyzed as a protective measure to prevent you from acting out your dreams.

REM sleep is incredibly important for healthy brain function. This stage of sleep has been associated with improved memory and maintaining important neural connections which help to enhance future learning. REM sleep has also been accredited to help with emotional processing and creativity.

Ways to get more REM sleep

If your sleep is frequently interrupted or if you’re suffering from non-restorative sleep, there’s a good chance that you’re losing out on REM sleep. Getting more REM sleep is hugely beneficial and may even help to improve symptoms of anxiety. To get more REM sleep, try following some of these steps.

1. Avoid alcohol

Because alcohol is a depressant, many people associate it with “winding down” and might even think that it helps with sleep. Although alcohol may help you feel more relaxed, it interferes with sleep quality quite a bit. The sedating effects of alcohol disappear after a few hours and can cause disrupted sleep and a reduction in REM sleep.

2. Maintain a sleep schedule

Keeping up with a sleep schedule can help improve your amount of REM sleep. Try to go to bed at the same time each night (and make it a reasonable time). If you stay up too late and have to wake up at a certain time in the morning for work or other obligations, you will likely end up interrupting your REM sleep.

3. Treat sleep disorders

Sometimes, sleep issues are related to underlying health issues. If you’ve been experiencing sleep issues consistently and your tiredness is interfering with your daily life, it is probably time to visit your doctor to figure out what might be going on.

4. Get more sunlight

Getting enough sunlight during the day can help regulate your circadian rhythm by activating melatonin, the sleep hormone. If you’re not feeling well rested and you’re not getting outside during the day, this could be the root of your problem. Try spending at least 10–30 minutes in the sunlight daily.

5. Get regular exercise

Exercise helps to tire out the body so that you’re ready to fall asleep at a reasonable hour. If exercise is new to you, you can start with gentle and easy workouts like walking and stretching, working your way up to more strenuous exercises.

6. Avoid caffeine late in the day

Caffeine is commonly consumed during the morning and throughout the day. If you’re used to drinking caffeine later in the day and you’re not sleeping well at night, then cutting down on that afternoon cup will likely benefit your sleep.

7. Quit smoking

Cigarette smokers are prone to sleep disorders, especially when smoking occurs in the evening or later in the day. Quitting smoking offers many benefits, including improved sleep quality.

8. Manage anxiety and other mental health issues

If you struggle with mental health challenges such as anxiety or PTSD then getting a handle on these conditions can help to improve your sleep quality. It is common to struggle with intrusive thoughts at night that interfere with sleep, making it difficult to fall back asleep once sleep has been interrupted. Visiting a licensed therapist can help with overcoming negative thought patterns to improve sleep quality.

What happens when you don't get enough REM sleep

Missing out on REM sleep can cause a number of negative consequences, from increased daily anxiety to poor memory function. Ongoing losses of REM sleep can cause sleep deprivation and are sometimes related to certain sleep disorders.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation occurs when you miss out on a full night of sleep. Sometimes sleep deprivation just means missing some sleep, other times you’ve gone a whole night (or nights) without sleep. Oftentimes, people who are sleep deprived are missing out on REM sleep.

Sleep disorders

Some common disorders that can cause a reduction in REM sleep include:

How to increase deep sleep?

Deep sleep and REM sleep are similar but they aren’t the same thing. Deep sleep is stage 3 of non-REM sleep. Deep sleep is associated with changes in the body while REM sleep is associated with changes in the brain. During deep sleep, the body heals itself by replacing cells, building muscle, and even healing wounds.

Steps to improve deep sleep are similar to those for REM sleep but you can also try:

  • Increasing fiber intake;
  • Using a white noise machine;
  • Listening to binaural beats while drifting to sleep.

Supplements that increase REM sleep and help to sleep better

Before turning to pharmaceuticals to help with sleep quality, you may want to research natural options. Some natural supplements that may help to increase REM sleep include:

  • Melatonin;
  • Magnesium;
  • Valerian root;
  • Chamomile;
  • Gingko Biloba.

Talk with your doctor before taking supplements for sleep, especially if you’re already taking other medications.

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