Health / Expert Advice

The Importance of REM Sleep: 5 Things You Need to Know

Sleep isn’t a sign of weakness or a luxury for those with time on their hands. It’s a vital part of human health.

When we sleep, our bodies and minds undergo important repair processes that help us recover from the day’s efforts and energy expenditure. As such, the CDC recommends at least seven hours of sleep a day for optimum health.

Sleep’s not as simple as you think though. It’s a complex process consisting of several important phases.

Here are five things everyone needs to know about the importance of REM sleep.

1. What is REM Sleep?

There are two main types of sleep during the normal human sleep cycle. These are REM-sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of three phases.

During a typical night’s sleep, you cycle through all four of these stages several times, although the REM phases become longer just before waking. Here’s what happens during each phase:

Non-REM Sleep Stage One

This is the first phase of sleep and involves the gradual shift from wakefulness to sleep. It’s a short phase lasting only a few minutes.

During this phase of light sleep, your eye movements, heartbeat, brain waves, and breathing slow. Your muscles relax although they might twitch occasionally.

Non-REM Sleep Stage Two

This is a transitional phase between light sleep and deep sleep. Everything slows down even more, your boy temperature drops, and your eyes become still.

Brain wave activity slows although there are still brief bouts of electrical activity. This is the longest phase of the sleep cycle.

Non-REM Sleep Stage Three

This is the most important part of sleep to enable you to feel refreshed when you wake. It occurs in decreasing stages throughout the first half of the sleep cycle.

At this time, your heartbeat and breathing are slower than any other time during the sleep cycle and your muscles are totally relaxed. It’s difficult for anyone to wake you during this stage of sleep.

REM Sleep

You experience your first bout of REM Sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep. During REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep your eyes move back and forth quickly behind closed eyelids.

Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increase to almost the same levels as when you’re awake. Yet, your muscles undergo a period of temporary paralysis. This prevents you from acting out your dreams and harming yourself or others.

If you’ve ever experienced a dream where you’re trying to get up but you can’t move, it’s because you are incapable of motion during this phase of sleep. REM sleep usually lasts about ten minutes at a time, but the older you are, the less time you’ll spend in this phase of sleep.

After the period of REM sleep, you’ll go back to the start of the cycle and repeat the whole process over again until you wake.

As part of this cycle, REM sleep plays an important role in human health.

2. Why Does REM Sleep Matter?

Since all mammals experience REM sleep, most studies on this topic take place using rats.

Depriving these creatures of REM sleep shortened their life spans from years to weeks. When deprived of all sleep cycles, most rats only lived for three weeks.

During REM sleep, your brain exercises vital neural connections related to overall well-being, health, and mental acuity.

Not only do these studies highlight the importance of sleep in general, but they also emphasize the role of REM sleep in particular.

3. Importance of REM Sleep for Good Health

What are the health benefits of REM sleep uncovered by these studies?

Most of the benefits associated with REM sleep are mental. Studies suggest that REM sleep enhances memory, mood, and cognitive development.

From a health perspective, lack of REM sleep’s associated with migraines, obesity, and all the maladies that go hand in hand with being overweight.

4. Alcohol Adversely Affects REM Sleep

Many people believe in a nightcap before bed as it relaxes them enough to fall asleep easily.

While there is some truth in this old wives’ tale, there’s plenty of evidence that proves alcohol affects REM sleep negatively too. Low levels of alcohol intake have little effect on REM sleep, but moderate and high intakes reduce REM sleep significantly.

Alcohol also contributes to sleep snoring, sleep apnea, and nocturnal bathroom visits. It also interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm which is our internal clock that controls sleep and wakefulness.

5. You Can Improve Your REM Sleep

The good news is that you can improve the quality and duration of your REM sleep. All it takes is a few commonsense lifestyle changes.

These are:

Following a Bedtime Routine

People are creatures of habit. When you follow the same routine every night, your body and mind automatically start to prepare for sleep.

Religiously following the same routine every night before bed can enhance the quality o your sleep and help you nod off quicker.

Reducing Night-Time Waking

Interrupted sleep is never a good thing. Switch off cell phones, radios, and other sources of noise and get rid of any lights in your room before you go to sleep.

Make sure your room temperature’s set at about 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit to optimize your surroundings for good sleep. Avoid drinking too many liquids close to bedroom, or you could be in for a bathroom break before morning.

Take Care of Your Health

Some medical conditions, like sleep apnea, can affect your quality of sleep and thus reduce REM sleep. Regular check-ups with your doctor can help you avoid medical conditions and enjoy better sleep overall.

Follow a healthy diet an avoid alcohol consumption for several hours before turning in. You can also take vitamins for sleep to help you get a good night’s rest.

A Healthy Lifestyle Means Healthy Sleep

If you care about the importance of REM sleep, you can take good health to the next level by engaging in a regular exercise routine.

Exercise helps tire you out in preparation for a night of healthful rest. For more on the benefits of exercise and customized exercise routines, keep browsing our website.

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