February 4th, 2019 | Updated on March 5th, 2020
When you’re feeling run down, the typical advice you’ll hear is to get more sleep. But is that really the answer? What if you’re already sleeping 8+ hours per night?
In many cases, people are getting enough sleep, but they’re not getting enough of the right kind of sleep. In this post, we’ll explore different types of sleep with focus on the ever-important REM sleep. We’ll talk about why you need REM sleep and how you might get more of it.
What Is REM Sleep?
REM is a stage of sleep that gets its name from your eye moments during this time. REM stands for “Rapid Eye Movement.” Interestingly, your eyes are the only body part that makes any significant movement during this sleep stage. It’s almost as if your brain is the only body part that’s awake and active at this point.
REM sleep doesn’t happen all at once. Most people slip into this deep sleep after about 90 minutes of falling asleep. Throughout the night, you should then experience shorter bursts of REM sleep. In total, you’ll go through 4 to 5 sleep stages and spend about 20 to 25 percent of your time in REM sleep. But that’s not guaranteed.
During the remaining time, your body may be in N1 sleep, which is a transitory stage that takes you from being awake to being asleep. And then there’s N2 that’s a light sleep, and N3 is a deep sleep.
Benefits Of REM Sleep
We’ve known about REM sleep since the 50s, and scientists are still exploring its benefits, but there are a few things we can tell you about this important sleep phase.
REM sleep stimulates the areas of the brain that are responsible for learning, which may be why children spend more time in REM sleep than adults. REM sleep is also closely associated with protein production and learning specific mental skills.
How To Improve REM Sleep
First, we know that sleeping for longer stretches of time does increase your odds of getting more REM sleep. A Gallop poll states that the average American sleeps 6.8 hours per night, but nearly half sleep less than 6 hours. And if you’re among those who are getting less than 6 hours, you’re probably getting more of the N3 deep sleep than you are getting of REM sleep.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to increase the amount of REM sleep you’re getting each night. Here are a few ways to help boost REM sleep.
- Increase sleep time – Since the only time you can experience REM is while you’re asleep, it makes sense to increase your sleep time to get more REM sleep. If you’re only getting 6 hours now, try increasing it to 7 hours. If you’re already getting 8 or more hours of sleep each night, you can skip to the next tip.
- Avoid alcohol – Alcohol has been known to interrupt your ability to get a good night’s rest, and that includes REM sleep. A scientific review of 27 studies found that alcohol may help you drift off to sleep faster (N1 phase), but it reduces REM sleep. The more you drink before bed, the worse it gets.
- Keep a regular schedule – Try to set a bedtime and an awake time for each day and keep them reasonably the same from day-to-day (even on weekends). This will help your body learn your sleep cycle, and you’ll drift off to dreamland easier when it’s time to go to bed. The more time you spend trying to get to sleep, the less time you’ll spend in REM sleep.
If you’re showing signs of grogginess during the day and lack mental focus, you may not be getting enough REM sleep. But don’t worry. There are some relatively easy fixes. Try the tips outlined here to help you get a better night’s rest. If it doesn’t do the trick, talk to your doctor about your sleep troubles. It’s a good idea to rule out medical conditions that may be interfering with your sleep.
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