What does REM stand for? And why does REM matter? today we'll aim to answer these common questions.
You may have heard of REM sleep, the final of the four sleep stages. During REM sleep, your eyes move rapidly from side to side, your body freezes and your dreams become vivid. Let’s explore this sleep stage deeper and see what it’s all about.
What Are the Other Sleep Stages?
There are four sleep stages in total, with the first two being light and the third deep. They each serve a purpose and have lots of specifics associated with them, but here’s a brief overview of each.
Stage one is the falling asleep stage that only lasts about five minutes. While it’s not a vital stage of sleep, it’s an inescapable one that shows up at the start of sleep, and possibly once or twice later on.
Stage two is the time when your body starts relaxing. Your breathing and heart rate slow, and you’re still in very light sleep. This stage of sleep makes up most of your slumber, and it’s best to wake someone up during this stage as they’ll feel rested and refreshed.
Stage three is deep sleep, where you hit your most relaxed point and your body starts to heal itself. If you have any injuries, now’s the time they work on healing. This stage also refreshes your body and mind.
It’s incredibly difficult to wake someone from this stage of sleep, but it’s achievable. It’s easier to wake someone during REM, which comes after deep sleep.
You don’t spend a lot of time in deep sleep during the night, as vital it is. Slowly but surely, you spend less time in stage three as REM takes over.
But now we have to ask, what is this all-important, famous REM sleep?
What Is REM Sleep?
REM or R.E.M. sleep stands for rapid eye movement sleep. It’s named after the physical attribute that appears during the stage.
During REM sleep, your body is primarily frozen. Your breathing muscles move and your eyes can, but you’re essentially paralyzed everywhere else. The paralysis stops you from acting out your dreams, unless you have parasomnia, the affliction which causes sleepwalking.
Why Is REM Sleep Important?
All stages of sleep are vital, but REM plays a role that holds the show together. It improves your waking life and revitalizes your tired brain.
You should always ensure you get at least three hours of sleep, so you have the first REM cycle in. This is just in situations where you can’t get the recommended 7–8 hours of sleep.
So, with that said, what does REM sleep actually do?
Helps You Learn and Improves Memory
Your ability to learn and your memory are heavily interlinked. REM sleep helps both of these.
Experts discovered that REM sleep is vital to your cognitive function, along with your creativity. Other experts at psych central have done further research on REM sleep and dreaming and how they positively impact your brain function.
A quick breakdown of the study: out of two groups who learned a new skill before sleeping, the one deprived of REM had difficulty in remembering the skill. The other group, reprived of NREM (the other sleep stages) didn’t share this difficulty.
This may be down to what the experts at the Mayo Clinic state—your brain does its info-filing during REM sleep. It takes the important from the unimportant, turns short-term memories into long-term ones. Skipping REM sleep is like neglecting to hire a secretary for your business, and expecting to find all your files neat and ready for you every morning. Don’t miss out on REM.
Helps Your Brain Develop
As well as letting your brain sort the duds from the indispensable information-based memories, REM sleep develops your brain, too.
Your brain never stops growing new neurons, according to one study. Even Alzheimers patients—whose brains are deteriorating—have the same number of neurons as fresh, young, healthy-brained teens.
Since your brain is always developing, aiding it is essential—especially in young children, who have rapidly-developing and growing young brains.
This Washington State University research further details the importance of REM sleep in young brains. Alongside that, kids and babies spend more time in REM sleep than adults—this discovery may be why.
Helps You Process Your Emotions
Sometimes you sleep while you’re stressed or after a highly emotional day. Alongside that, people suffering from depression tend to sleep more than those who lack the affliction.
Whether you’re sleeping after normal stresses or a chemical imbalance, your brain shuts down the stress-causing chemistry, according to experts at UC Berkeley. This helps your brain go through your emotions and experiences, processing them without bias.
Then you awake feeling more confident and rational—perhaps this is why it’s common advice to “sleep on” a problem or big decision?
Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight
A study by Mayo Clinic connects leptin to REM, and other sleep stages. Leptin is an appetite-regulating hormone, which decreases in individuals who experienced adequate REM sleep.
On top of that, this study suggests that inadequate REM sleep may lead to increased appetite, and therefore weight gain in the long run.
It’s common advice to dieters that you should get enough sleep to keep yourself healthy, mentally and physically. These studies prove it’s more vital than most people think.
How to Get More REM Sleep
Since REM sleep is so vital, it’s not strange that you’d want to get more of it. Plus, it means you get to spend more time vividly dreaming, which almost anyone would enjoy. The video below will teach you a few basic tricks to optimize your REM sleep.
R.E.M. or rapid eye movement sleep is the fourth stage of sleep and one of the most important there is. During this stage, you dream well, and you reap the rewards you deserve after a long and active day. Remember, REM sleep does the following for your wellbeing:
- Keeps your memory sharp and helps you learn.
- Aids brain development, especially in childhood.
- Helps you process emotions without stress.
- Keeps your appetite under control.
If you have anything to share or ask about REM sleep, feel free to comment below.