What is REM Sleep and Why is it Important?

Posted by Cuddledown ‍ on

Sleep plays an essential role in our lives and it is easy to forget just how important our sleep is in maintaining our physical health and allowing our immune systems to function.

Sleep is also an essential part of supporting our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

However, many of us don't think about what actually happens whilst we get our rest each night and why it is so important. Moreover, the importance of sleep highlights why investing in a goose down duvet or pillow could be one of the best decisions you ever make to improve your sleep.

While you sleep, your body goes through various sleep cycles. Each cycle contains three stages of non-REM sleep followed by a fourth stage called REM sleep.

Each stage of sleep plays a valuable role for your body and mind, but REM sleep is incredibly fascinating because it boosts brain activity, improves learning, and produces dreams!

What is REM Sleep?

REM sleep stands for ‘Rapid Eye Movement.’ It is a stage of sleep that typically starts about 90 minutes after falling asleep.

Sometimes referred to as ‘stage R,’ REM sleep is the period of sleep where brain activity increases, your eyes flicker, and pulse, blood pressure, and breathing get faster.

It is also in REM sleep that most dreaming occurs. In this deep state of sleep, your muscles act as if they are paralysed. This is what prevents you from acting out your dreams.

When Do You Experience REM Sleep?

While you are asleep, your body goes through sleep cycles. REM sleep occurs at the end of each sleep cycle. 

There are three phases of non-REM sleep:

Stage 1 When you first fall asleep, you enter stage one of non-REM sleep. You are drifting off but may move or be woken easily by noise. This lasts for approximately five to ten minutes.

Stage 2 Stage two is when your body starts preparing for a deeper sleep. Your heart rate will lower, and your body temperature will drop.

Stage 3 In stage three, deep sleep begins. You won't be woken up as easily, and your body will start some of its essential maintenance work. In this stage, tissue and bones are restored and your immune system is strengthened.

REM Sleep Explained

After stage three, at around 90 minutes of sleep, you will enter REM sleep. Your eyes will move and flicker beneath your eyelids. During REM sleep, your brain activity will accelerate, your pulse will rise, and you will start to dream.

The first cycle of REM sleep usually lasts around 10 minutes. At each cycle, this will increase to as long as one hour.

Why Is REM Sleep Important?

REM sleep is vital for brain training and memory. During the REM cycle, the areas of your brain essential in learning and remembering are stimulated.

In this sleep phase, your brain operates critical neural connections that are essential for your mental health and general well-being.

What Do We Need REM Sleep For?

Sleep helps us in more ways than you might realise. In addition to ensuring you feel well-rested and can recuperate properly after exercise, a strenuous day or anything else life can throw at us. Sleep plays an essential role in:

Survival

That's right; REM sleep may even play a role in how long you live! A study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke deprived rats of REM, and their life span reduced from two or three years to just five weeks. Researchers don't entirely understand why sleep is so essential, but animal studies prove that a lack of REM sleep can shorten lifespans.

Health

People who aren't getting enough sleep are at greater risk of various health conditions. These include heart conditions, obesity, and diabetes. Loss of sleep also harms the immune system, making our bodies more susceptible to infections.

Growth

REM sleep support growth in children and young adults because this is when the body releases growth hormone. The body also produces more proteins during this stage, which are necessary for cell growth and repair.

Nervous System 

Sleep helps our nerve cells so they can function optimally. This improves brain function and thinking ability.

If you don't get enough sleep, your memory, brain performance and ability to reason coherently is compromised. If you become severely sleep-deprived, there is a risk of experiencing neurological problems. These include drastic mood swings and auditory and visual hallucinations.

Sleep is a vital element of health and well-being. If you have severe or worsening sleep problems, it is advisable to contact your doctor. 

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