REM sleep, sounds a bit scientific doesn’t it? REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and it happens to be one of the stages within the sleep cycle.
There’s light sleep and deep sleep. And then there’s REM sleep. But first, a few words about sleep overall…
We all know sleep is when we nod off. But what does it involve exactly? What happens with our brain and our body every night?When we sleep, neurotransmitters, the nerve-signalling chemicals in our bodies, stop producing serotonin and norepinephrine, which keeps our brain active and awake. Instead, these neurons switch off. At the same time, a chemical known as adenosine, builds up in our blood, causing drowsiness.1
Sleeping does lots of things to our bodies and our brain, the most important of which includes, consolidating our memories (our brain takes our experiences and moves them from our short to our long-term memory).Overall, sleep also enables us to recharge our bodies and our brain. That’s why you’ll find babies and children need much more sleep than adults; it’s fuels their physical and mental development.4
REM sleep happens in cycles throughout the night. The first REM sleep cycle kicks in around 90 minutes after you fall asleep and then recurs every 90 minutes.
In terms of what it means, it’s when your eyes move around quickly (even though your eyelids are shut). It’s at this point that your brainwaves are actually on the same scale as somebody who is awake and your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are near-waking levels. You’re very active, yet you’re asleep!It’s during REM sleep that you’re most likely to dream and when your brain’s busy filing away your experiences in your long-term memory bank.8,9
Are you now thinking, ‘How much REM sleep do I need?’ There aren’t any official figures out there in relation to how many hours of REM sleep you should clock up every night.However, it’s thought that it accounts for 20 to 25% of the average adult sleep cycle.10 What’s more, not having much REM sleep can make us feel groggy and make it more difficult for us to concentrate.11
Unfortunately, you can’t programme your body to give you certain amounts of sleep each night. And, as you’ve probably already figured out, we don’t always experience all of the phases of sleep every single night.If you wind up having too much REM sleep, i.e. over 25%, then you’re most probably going to feel it. It’s not uncommon to feel angry and irritable because your brain’s been too busy while you’ve been sleeping.12
Last updated: 16 September 2020