Importance of REM Sleep

Importance of REM Sleep

We all know that sleep is essential and vital for many reasons including healing, restoration and removing metabolic waste. The average adult requires seven hours per night. However, it is not only the length of sleep, which is important, but also the actual quality and the type.

Essentially, sleep is divided into the categories of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM, and occurs in cycles of around 90 minutes, between four and six times each night.

The initial phase of REM sleep occurs approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep and may only last for 10 minutes. The next cycle will include a longer period of REM sleep, and it increases with each cycle during the night. The optimum level of REM sleep is said to be 20% of the overall sleeping time

Although REM represents a minor portion, its importance cannot be overstated. The majority of our vivid dreams occur in REM state and it is at this point that dreams, nightmares and increased brain activity occurs. Dreams are a necessary function as they help to consolidate memories and process emotions and even if you cannot remember your dreams studies have shown that all people in fact do dream (1).

In REM sleep heart rate increases, eyes jerk rapidly, breathing becomes irregular and shallow, and muscle paralysis acts as a protectant to ensure that actions experienced during dreaming are not acted out, such as flailing limbs. This phase of sleep is particularly important for the development of the part of the brain used in learning and could explain why infants spend more time in this phase than adults.

Studies show that brain waves during this stage are similar to those experienced when people are awake and REM sleep is essential for mental health, and may even lessen anxiety, depression and reduce insomnia. Suggestions to reach this desired sleep phase would be cutting down screen time 1-2hrs previous to bedtime, eating magnesium rich foods such as kale, avocados, or banana’s and supplementing with Valerian root, GABA, L-theanine or Passionflower.