How Much REM Sleep Do You Need To Feel Remarkable?
One of the common themes throughout the articles in Rested Life is that getting the right amount of sleep is sometimes not as important as getting the best quality sleep.
Unfortunately, quality sleep eludes most of us.
Many people live life feeling tired and drowsy, never taking a moment to question whether that should be the case. Maybe they’ve dealt with being tired for so long that it becomes all they know; never knowing that a rested life can be much more fulfilling than one where they’re constantly struggling to stay awake.
Although not getting enough sleep is an issue, oftentimes the bigger problem is not getting enough of the sleep that matters the most.
Perhaps your sleep is being interrupted by a newborn, or maybe it’s sleep apnea waking you up multiple times throughout the night. Whatever the case, understanding the most essential stage of sleep can help you make the most out of your time in the sack.
What is REM sleep?
REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is arguably the most important stage of sleep in the sleep cycle. The word “REM Sleep” comes from the fact that your eyes move around quickly while you’re in this stage of sleep.
REM sleep is also called “paradoxical sleep” because while in this stage, the brain behaves a lot like it does when it’s awake. For example, during REM sleep the brain spends equal or more energy than it normally does during wakefulness.
Why does REM sleep matter?
Lack of REM sleep makes you feel tired and sleepy during the day. Overall, it’s considered the most refreshing and restful of all the sleep stages.
REM sleep is essential for the body as evidenced by the fact that if you fail to get enough REM sleep the night before, the body will initiate the REM sleep stage earlier during sleep. This is commonly referred to as REM sleep rebound.
REM sleep is also closely associated with dreams, with an estimated average of about 80% of all dreams occurring during REM sleep.
In fact, if you’re ever sleep deprived from not sleeping enough the night before, when you fall asleep, you’re much more likely to dream and even experience lucid dreaming. This is because your body will compensate for the lost REM sleep of the night prior by initiating REM sleep earlier and making it last longer.
Lack of REM sleep can also cause psychological and physiological problems. REM sleep deprivation can cause irritability, difficulty concentrating and increased appetite. Additionally, in controlled studies it has been found that REM sleep deprivation decreases measures of survivability in animals.
How much REM sleep do you need?
The answer to this question depends on your age. In general, adults need between 1.6 and 2.0 hours of REM sleep every night. Babies, however, need more REM sleep because their nervous system and brains are still developing at a fast rate. As a baby enters childhood, the amount of REM sleep required starts quickly decreasing.
See the table below to find out how much rem sleep you should be getting:
Although most of the restfulness from a night of good sleep happens during the REM sleep stage, it might be difficult to zoom in on that sleep stage and get more REM sleep alone.
The problem is that, as an adult for example, although you might only need between 1.6 and 2.0 hours of REM sleep, you usually don’t get the bulk of the REM sleep until about the 5th hour of sleep. And by that point, you’re already basically getting the full recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep.
To illustrate, during the first 2 hours of sleeping, you might only get about 15 minutes of REM sleep; whereas during the last 2 hours of sleep, you might get around 40 minutes of REM sleep.
As a result, it becomes difficult to sleep for shorter periods of time and still get the necessary amounts of REM sleep that your body needs to feel rested throughout the day.
It’s a real bummer. However, there are ways to get around that…
How can you get more REM sleep?
If your busy schedule is keeping you from getting the recommended amount of sleep every night, the best thing you can do is make the most out of the precious sleep time you already have.
To do so, make sure that you’re following proper sleep hygiene practices to stop habits that might be killing your REM sleep, such as:
1. Don’t use your cellphone, laptop, tablet, or TV at least 30 minutes before going to bed
These devices emit light of a certain wavelength (blue light) that actually shortens your REM sleep cycle. As if that weren’t enough, it also decreases melatonin production, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep at bedtime.
If you’re like most people, giving up the phone or laptop might not be an option later in the night. If that is the case, check out the following free apps that filter out the blue light from your screen to help you have better sleep:
Android phone users: Blue Light Filter
Apple phone users: Apple introduced Night Shift, an integrated blue light filter, with the iOS 9.3 update on iPhones and iPads. You can access it by going to Settings–>Display & Brightness–>Night Shift
2. Cut out the caffeine
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that will make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. It can affect your REM sleep if taken too close to bedtime. As a general guideline, avoid any caffeine in the afternoon, starting at around 4pm, to prevent any damage to your sleep.
3. Cut out alcohol and other narcotics
Although it might feel easier to fall asleep after a night of drinking, alcohol is known to suppress REM sleep. As a result, you can wake up the next morning feeling like you slept for much less than you actually did.
Since alcohol is a depressant, it can also make any snoring and sleep apnea present more severe, thus causing even more damage to your sleep.
For more easy ways to sleep better and get more out of your zzz’s check out this infographic.
What if nothing works?
If, despite following proper sleep hygiene practices and getting the right amount of sleep you are still feeling tired during the day, you may have a sleep disorder.
About 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder of some sort. Sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea can shorten the amount of time you spend in REM sleep every night and prevent you from getting quality sleep.
If you believe you have a sleep disorder, consult with your family practitioner. In the meantime, you can check out if you might have one of the 5 most common sleep disorders in America.
There are still many mysteries surrounding REM sleep and how it works; it’s definitely a growing area of research. If you would like to share any updates or news regarding REM sleep, feel free to post it in the comments section.