What is REM sleep? – Functions, Consequences, How to Improve it

Did you know that a lot is happening in your mind and body when you are asleep? True, you may not know it, but your brain cycles through five different stages of sleep several times a night. The REM sleep is the fifth and possibly the most important of these stages, it helps renew your mind and plays an important role in your ability to learn and remember, REM sleep adequate, even for one night, is likely to feel tired the next day and not working at its optimum level.

What is REM sleep?

Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep) is one of the 4 stages of sleep, occurs in cycles of approximately 90-120 minutes throughout the night, and accounts for up to 20-25% of total sleep time in adults, although the proportion decreases with age (a newborn baby can spend 80% of the total time of sleep in the REM stage). In particular, this stage dominates the second half of the sleep period, especially the hours before waking up, and the REM component of each sleep cycle usually increases as the night progresses.

As its name suggests, it is associated with rapid (and seemingly random) lateral movements of the closed eyes, a phenomenon that can be monitored and measured using a technique called electrooculography. This eye movement is not constant (tonic) but intermittent (phasic), it is not yet known exactly what it is for, but it is believed that the eye movements may be related to the internal visual images of dreams that occur during REM sleep, especially since they are associated with brain wave spikes in brain regions. involved with vision (as well as other parts of the cerebral cortex).

Brain activity during REM sleep is characterized primarily by low-frequency brain waves, quite similar to those experienced during the waking state: theta, alpha, and even the high-frequency beta waves more typical of high-level active concentration and the thought . These show up as the typical sawtooth-shaped brain wave pattern on an EEG, and because of these similarities to waking, REM sleep has earned the nickname “paradoxical sleep.” The brain’s oxygen consumption, reflecting your energy consumption, is also very high during this period, in fact often higher than when you are awake and working on a complex problem.

Breathing becomes faster and more irregular during REM sleep than during non-REM sleep, and heart rate and blood pressure also rise to near-waking levels. Core temperature is not well regulated during this time and tends to room temperature, in the same way as reptiles and other cold-blooded animals. Sexual arousal is also common during and the male penis and female clitoris are aroused and erect for substantial periods during this stage of sleep, regardless of whether dreams in progress are erotic in nature or not.

Most dreams, arguably the most memorable and intense dreams, occur during REM sleep, and it is believed that the accompanying muscle sluggishness may be a built-in measure to protect us from personal harm that could occur while physically acting. Although lack of REM sleep produces surprisingly few negative effects on behavior, it has been shown to affect the ability to learn complex tasks, suggesting that REM is a vital component of our sleep patterns, especially during early childhood development. with a much higher percentage of total sleep.

Why do we need REM sleep?

The memory is consolidated during this stage of sleep, scientists still do not know why the activity of dreams is so critical for healthy brains, but they agree that it is vital to have adequate amounts of REM, as sta associated with feeling of soda the moment you wake up after a good night’s sleep, but it’s more than that: when sleep stages are disrupted, REM sleep is often sacrificed as it is the last sleep in the cycle that occurs before the cycle repeats.

During a full night of uninterrupted sleep, our brains have the opportunity to perform a deep cleaning to remove neurotoxins, such as the waste products of something called beta amyloid, which is found in people with Alzheimer’s disease .

REM sleep helps our brains detoxify and sweep away the waste of the day. However, disrupting it means less REM, which means less opportunity to process information and less time cleaning our brain of toxic proteins. People who do not get adequate amounts of this stage may be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinsonism, and are more likely to wake up without recovery and experience daytime sleepiness.

REM sleep functions

REM sleep is believed to benefit learning , memory, and mood and to contribute to brain development in babies. Lack of REM sleep can have adverse implications for physical and emotional health.

Learning and memory

Research suggests that when people cannot enter REM sleep, they have a hard time remembering what they were taught before falling asleep.

A study in rats has shown that as little as 4 days of sleep deprivation affects cell proliferation in the part of the brain that contributes to long-term memory. A combination of REM and non-REM sleep is likely important for learning and memory .

Central nervous system development

It can be especially important for brain development in babies, some research indicates that this stage of sleep is responsible for the neural stimulation necessary to develop mature neural connections. These findings may help explain why babies require higher levels of REM sleep each night, with the number of minutes dropping as people age.

Consequences of lack of REM sleep

In both humans and experimental animals, loss of REM sleep leads to various behavioral and physiological abnormalities, it has been noted during various natural and experimental infections. Survival of experimental animals decreases when REM sleep is completely attenuated during infection; this leads to the possibility that the quality and quantity of REM is generally essential to the normal physiology of the body.

The lack of this stage has been related to:

Reduced coping skills

Research indicates that REM sleep-deprived animals display abnormalities in coping mechanisms and defensive responses in threatening situations.


Not getting enough REM sleep has been linked to migraines .


A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that short sleep times and reduced REM sleep were associated with excess weight in children and adolescents.

How to improve REM sleep?

There are several ways to improve REM and NREM to reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep. The following tips can help you:

Establish a bedtime routine. Following the same bedtime routine each night prepares the body and mind for sleep, a regular bedtime routine can help maximize the amount of sleep time, which could increase the number of sleep phases experienced.

Reduce the time of night waking. Loud noises, warm temperatures and bright lights can disrupt sleep, you must have optimal sleeping conditions, turn off cell phones and other noise sources, and remove light sources from the bedroom, keep temperatures between 60 and 67 Fahrenheit degrees.

Get enough sleep. A healthy adult requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, sleeping less reduces the number of REM sleep phases experienced.

Address medical conditions. Certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea , can affect sleep quality and impact REM sleep.

Avoid alcohol before bed. As moderate to high levels of alcohol intake before bedtime can reduce the number of REM sleep phases experienced, and any amount delays entry into the first phase, it is advisable to avoid alcohol consumption in the hours leading up to bedtime. go to bed.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.