What Does REM Stand for and How Much REM Sleep Do You Need Each Night?

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REM sleep spelled out

Most of us experience the occasional sleepless night. Sometimes, we eat something that didn’t agree with us. Other times, it’s an annoying noise that keeps us from falling into the arms of classic REM sleep.

So, what does REM stand for? REM stands for rapid eye movement during sleep. It’s healthy.

Perhaps the stress of your job or worry over a loved one intruded on your regular sleep pattern. We’ve all been there. We suffered through the crankiness the following day, and people noticed.

Believe it or not, that’s normal. 

But when this pattern repeats itself, you’re dealing with a sleep disorder. It’s best to speak with a professional. Address this repeating issue before it impacts your life and family.

There are many helpful and tested treatments available.

In this article, we’ll break down what REM sleep is all about and why it’s an important stage of our nightly sleep cycles. Let’s get started!

Understanding the Mechanics Behind Sleep

People crave sleep. It’s part of our structure. During this downtime, a complex system works quietly. It improves our immune system, repairs organs, and cells, and prepares us for the next day. It operates as a maintenance team while our external system shuts down. Our bodies and mind remain active on a cellular level.

The mind and sleep are complex systems and work in unison to allow us to perform. Yet, even sleep has divisions.

REM sleep definition may be something most of us recognize. But what is REM sleep? In a nutshell, we just do it. We think of REM as the dream stage or active stage of sleep. During REM, our brain cleans off the cobwebs, and our heart and pulse are almost as active as when waking.

Non-REM sleep is when our heart rate slows, and our blood vessels recover from all their work to keep us going.

Although our system takes a break during sleep, our brains work behind the scenes. Sleeping solves problems and allows our bodies to rest and recoup.

What the Brain Does While We’re Sleeping

Don’t let the silence fool you. When we sleep, our brains are active. We drift on cloud nine into stage one: non-REM sleep. Our brain cells relax from their day’s activity and settle into a steady pattern.

In non-REM, we are super relaxed. During the REM sleep phase (measured by an EEG,) our brains fire off a light sequence like when we are active and awake.

One of the critical elements of a good night’s sleep is that it repairs us. Think of sleep as taking your car in for maintenance.

We’re revived after a good night’s sleep and miserable after a turbulent night of tossing and turning.

What Makes Our Brains Function?

Brain chemicals or neurotransmitters also influence our sleep cycle. These minuscule components help our nerves communicate. Specific neurons (nerve cells) dictate whether we sleep or wake.

Neurons in the brainstem produce neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine. These vital chemicals are active when we are.

Neurons that are hidden within the base of our brain turn off the signals that keep us awake. If they malfunction, we get sleep disturbances.

Why Do People Need Sleep?

Sleep is essential for many bodily functions and healthy life.

Our growth depends on adequate amounts of deep sleep when we’re young. In deep sleep, the body releases growth hormones and increases protein production. This function is necessary for cell growth and repair.

Adequate sleep regulates our nervous system function. During disturbed sleep, we sleep poorly or not enough. It affects our abilities, and our performance suffers.

If a person suffers from prolonged sleep deprivation, neurological problems may surface. These problems may cause mood alterations and hallucinations. 

During sleep, our nerve connections revitalize and strengthen our ability. This downtime allows cells to regenerate and repair.

Research is still unclear on the purpose of REM sleep. Studies conducted on sleep-deprived animals show a reduced lifespan, and a lack of sleep can damage our immune response.

Research also suggests that lack of sleep affects our overall well-being. Patients suffering from sleep disturbances have a high risk of developing health issues. Obesity, diabetes, and heart problems affect one’s well-being.

Breaking Sleep Into Defined Stages

Experts break sleep into four stages, which are then subdivided into two phases. When a person is asleep, the brain passes through natural cycles and remains active.

During non-REM sleep, including the first stage, we prepare the mind and body for REM sleep. Once a person cycles through REM, they enter into the last two stages of sleep in which deep sleep occurs. In deep sleep, it’s difficult to wake.

REM sleep is everyone’s favorite. Here, our mind takes us on dream journeys. We fall into REM roughly an hour to an hour and a half after finally falling asleep. In the REM sequence of sleep, people have the most vivid dreams.

Related Reading: REM Sleep vs. Deep Sleep

How Much REM Sleep Do We Need?

Sleep isn’t on a strict timeline, but we pass through non-REM and REM sleep cycles for fluctuating periods. We begin the cycle again at non-REM. These repeating cycles last 90 – 110 minutes and start over again.

Non-REM Sleep Explained

Non-REM sleep occurs in three stages.

Stage 1 lasts for about five to ten minutes after settling into bed and getting comfortable.

  • Muscle and eye activity lessens; our eyes remain closed.
  • Individuals may feel they remained awake and even remember images.
  • Others experience a falling motion. It’s a familiar sensation like a strong jolt caused by an involuntary muscle contraction. Medical terms are hypnic myoclonic or hypnic jerk.
  • Hypnic jerks are part of the routine, and most people experience them.

Stage 2 takes our bodies into a light sleep as we prepare to sink into deeper levels of sleep.

  • We still experience episodes of muscle tensing and alternating relaxation.
  • Our eye movement ceases. Our heart rate slows, and our temperature drops.
  • As our mind and body adjust to sleep, we may experience waves of sleep spindles, and our brain waves slow.

Stage 3 transports us into the deep sleep phase.

  • Slow delta brain waves dominate our brain.
  • It becomes difficult to wake from this state–we feel disoriented.
  • Eye movement and muscle activity stop.

While our body cycles through these stages of non-REM, our body still works. It builds bones and muscle tissue and repairs and strengthens the immune system. As we age, we experience less non-REM sleep, and our bodies regenerate less.

A comfortable sleeping environment assists our body during sleep. It prevents less frequent waking.

REM Sleep Explained

What does REM stand for in sleep? REM sleep is the most frequently discussed sleep phase. Our brain becomes active to awake levels during this phase, and our sleep isn’t as deep.

In REM sleep, we have limited body movements. Our brains are activating, and our dreams intensify.

Most people enter the REM phase on average after about an hour and a half. The phase lasts about ten minutes (successive stages lengthen in duration).

As our bodies age, the REM sleep experience changes with us.

  • Infants and children experience the highest amount of REM sleep.
  • Teens and young adults experience a slow decline in REM sleep.
  • Mature people’s REM sleep decreases continually.
  • Increased breathing.
  • Rise in heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Erections.
  • Rapid eye movement.

It’s not possible to change what our body does naturally, but we can influence our sleep quality with therapeutic sleep aids and mattresses.

Known Sleep Quality Influencers

We all have sleep habits. We develop likes and dislikes that influence our sleeping arrangements. Some of us prefer cooler room temperatures. A wholly darkened and silent space is ideal for some. Others need to see the stars and have white noise lull them to sleep.

For many others, those comforts go deeper still. Of course, other common factors influence our sleeping patterns.

Alcohol may relax a person to the point of sleep, but it prevents a person from reaching REM and deeper sleep stages.

Caffeine and pseudoephedrine (common drug ingredient) can cause insomnia. Decongestants and diet medications contain these hidden ingredients.

Antidepressants are often responsible for causing sleep disturbance and less REM sleep. Discuss this issue with your health care advisor.

Nicotine withdrawal in smokers prevents them from sleeping in deeper stages. They suffer from disrupted sleep patterns.

Room temperature can also affect REM sleep. During REM sleep, our bodies are less able to regulate body temperature.

Proper bedding and mattresses can also improve our sleeping patterns. A mattress needs regular replacement.

Does Everybody Have the Same Sleep Requirements?

Age influences the amount of sleep a person needs. Infants need about 16 hours of sleep. Set toddlers’ and preschoolers’ sleep schedules to 12 hours.

Although teens are famous for sleeping all day, they need about nine hours. On average, adults cope well with seven to eight hours.

Pregnancy during the first trimester may influence sleep needs.

Sleep Debt

Sleep debt isn’t something you can repay. Sleep debt makes a person feel lethargic and mentally drained. Catching up on sleep is still a hotly debated subject. A better solution to avoid sleep debt is to get an appropriate amount of sleep daily.

Some individuals may function well with a minimal amount of sleep. Eventually, though, that deficit may impair judgment, thinking, and health.

Sleep deprivation can occur for many reasons. Common causes are illness, family emergencies, work, or environmental influences.

Signs that someone is sleep deprived include:

  • Rapidly falling asleep
  • Feeling drowsy or drugged
  • Falling asleep periodically during the day
  • Difficulty focusing and staying alert

How Much REM Sleep Do You Need? 

It depends on the individual. Sadly, sleep deprivation results in serious injuries and accidents. It has been compared to being intoxicated.

Sleep Disorders Explained

American statistics suggest that 50 to 70 million people suffer from sleep disorders. Another 20 million experience occasional sleep pattern disruptions. The cost of this disorder is transparent in every aspect of life. We see it in work performance-related issues, driving, social interactions, and school work.

The American Sleep Association also classifies more than 70 different sleep disorders. Anyone experiencing sleep disturbances should consult a health care provider. 

Sleep disorders are common and have distinct triggers. They’re difficult to cope with over long periods. They also come with debilitating side effects.

Common Sleep Disorders

Insomnia is a term that prevents, delays, or disrupts a healthy sleep cycle. Insomnia refers to those unable to fall asleep or those who can’t stay asleep. 

Prescribed or OTC sleeping pills may provide temporary relief. A better solution is treating the issue with behavioral techniques and therapy.

Narcolepsy refers to individuals who fall asleep sporadically throughout the day. These involuntary attacks may last for a few seconds or half an hour. Extra evaluations with health and sleep professionals may be necessary.

RLS or restless leg syndrome is treated with medication. RLS patients experience prickling or tingling in their legs during the night. Frequent leg movement eases the uneasy sensation but is not the same as sleepwalking.

Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition. The sleeper experiences interrupted stop and start breathing.

This condition requires treatment. Professional sleep consultants and doctors prescribe treatments to deal with this problem. A CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) sleep apparatus is often the only solution.

Weight loss and sleep positions along with a CPAP apparatus may help.

Patients with sleep apnea still report having dreams. Their dreams often suggest a negative tone and can impact their mental health status.

Snoring leads to unhealthy sleep and may also affect the sleep quality of others.

Building Good Sleep Habits

Many influences on our sleeping patterns are beyond our control and frustrating. Instead of counting sheep, try these tips:

  1. Build a sleep schedule. Stick to the routine each day, including weekends and vacations.
  2. Before going to bed, try clearing your mind. Many find success with meditation techniques and making a to-do list. By accepting and organizing what is on your agenda for the following day, you’ll prepare your mind to relax.
  3. Invest in a quality mattress and bedding: Adust sounds, light, and temperature to a suitable liking.
  4. Create an exercise plan and be active. Don’t go to bed right after physical activity.
  5. Learn relaxation techniques. Soaking in a tub, reading, listening to soothing music, or pursuing a relaxing hobby is a great start.

Address ongoing sleep disorders with your doctor.

Nate Devore
Nate Devore
For over 15 years Nate has been obsessed with solving his own personal and difficult health challenges related to sleep, energy, and fatigue. As one of our sleep experts at sleeping.com, Nate is passionate about helping you get the best night’s sleep possible.

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment. Always consult your doctor before making any decisions.

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