What is REM sleep?

Rapid Eye Sleep (REM) is a stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement, low muscle tone throughout the body and the tendency of the sleeping person to dream intensely.

Sleep cycles go through the REM and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) stages almost every 90 minutes, more REM sleep occurring later in the night as the morning approaches.

For dreams occur during REM sleep, this is sometimes called paradoxical sleep, the sleeping person being both deeply asleep and fully conscious.

What is REM?

REM sleep is the fourth stage of the sleeping cycle, which occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. It is also known as paradoxical sleep because it reverses some of the brain activity and muscle paralysis both of which occur during the non-REM sleep stages (NREM).

During REM, your brain becomes active again and there are some changes in your heart rate and breathing patterns that occur. Your eyes move quickly under your closed eyelids and you can feel like you’re dreaming, though you may not necessarily remember the dream later.

How long does REM sleep last?

You may be surprised to learn that REM sleep accounts for only about 20% of total sleep time. You will go into REM sleep only after the non-REM sleep phase, the two being alternate during each night.

The first phase of REM lasts about 10 minutes, while the second lasts about 20 minutes.

What happens to the brain during REM sleep?

In REM sleep, brain activity is similar to waking and dreaming. This is why during REM sleep you can have experiences that seem so real and vivid in your mind. It also explains why dreams can be so intense or emotional – due to the increased brain activity associated with REM sleep.

Is dreaming the same thing as REM sleep?

It is not. Dreaming is a form of REM sleep, but it is not the only type of REM sleep.

REM sleep is a cycle of a stages series that make up a complete sleep cycle, which lasts between 90 minutes and 2 hours and 40 minutes, depending on the individual’s age and other factors.

During this stage also known as paradoxical sleep, because your eyes move back and forth under the closed eyelids whilst you remain largely motionless, except for the muscles needed for breathing the other muscles relax. Your heart rate slightly increases as your brain waves accelerate from slow-wave activity to what is called beta waves — these being associated with a waking mind — and then descend again into delta waves, which are characteristic of deep sleep.

Does everyone dream?

Yes, everyone dreams. You don’t have to be a child or an animal for your mind to wander in the dark theater of the sleep and do a little show. Although there are some variations on the types of dreams that people have, almost all people experience REM sleep at least once during the night.

Dreams can be anything from images flying through space to strange visions of talking cats wearing hats. These dreams may seem completely real as they happen but when you wake up the next morning they often turn into simple snippets that quickly slip out of your memory.

How do we know if we are asleep REM?

Rapid eye movements and muscle paralysis are characteristic to REM sleep and can be detected using a device called an electroencephalogram (EEG). An EEG records brain waves using electrodes attached to the scalp.

A pattern of intermittent explosions of rapid electrical activity, known as polyspike wave complexes or PGO waves, indicates that you have entered a period of REM sleep.

How do you know you are in REM sleep? Is it possible to skip REM sleep?

REM sleep is a phase of sleep in which the brain is active and the body is paralyzed. During this phase you can dream.

What are some typical signs that you are dreaming?

  • Lucid dreams, in which you understand you’re in a dream and you can control things in it. 
  • Dreams in which the eyes move fast back and forth.
  • Strange sensations such as floating or flying.
  • Confused feelings due to the combination of being awake and dreaming.
  • Unusual smells and sounds that only appear during sleep (they do not appear when you are awake).

Can you prolong REM sleep?

No, it is not possible to prolong REM sleep. The body enters this special phase at a certain point in the night and then goes through several cycles of altered states before waking up completely rested. However, there are factors that can affect how much time you spend in REM sleep:

Age: Children spend more time sleeping than adults and tend to have more frequent periods of REM sleep. As you age, your body generally needs less rest time; therefore, the REM periods also become shorter.

Stress Level: Elevated stress levels can interfere with your ability to enter in deep or in slow wave phases (including stage 2). This means that even if you sleep enough total hours a night and all the other conditions are ideal for a good quality sleep, stress could still cause you problems with falling asleep quickly or staying asleep long enough for all 5 stages of non-REM sleep!

REM sleep is one of the 5 stages of normal and healthy sleep.

REM sleep is one of the 5 stages of normal and healthy sleep. During this stage, you may experience some or all of the following:

  • Rapid eye movements (REM)
  • Muscle paralysis (unable to move)
  • Fast heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

If you feel like REM sleep is inadequate, try some of these tips in your routine: make sure you get a good night’s rest, spend less time on screens before bed (or at least reduce the brightness level) and eat healthy foods, rich in nutrients such as magnesium and potassium (e.g. spinach), exercise during the day, such as walking or cycling instead of driving all day long.

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