REM Sleep: What It Is + 10 Proven Ways to Improve It

How important is REM sleep? REM sleep, or deep sleep, improves your memory, can help you lose weight, and is critical for your brain development. Learn how to improve your sleep with 10 quick tips.

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by
Mia Barnes
— Signos
Staff Writer
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Reviewed by

Mia Barnes
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 16, 2024
May 2, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Though people once thought sleep was a baseline time of rest, they now understand there are four stages of sleep with different levels of brain activity. One of them is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Knowing how to improve REM sleep might lead to a better quality of rest overall, which can excite you to rest your head on your pillow each night.

What Exactly Is REM Sleep?

REM sleep is the rapid eye movement that gives this stage of sleep its name. It results in more dreams and quicker bodily functions, like breathing and pulse rate. In addition, REM sleep leads to healthy brain development.

Though insufficient REM sleep can be troublesome, it's not the only part of the sleep cycle — there are three other components. Each person goes through four to six full sleep cycles per night, depending on how much rest they get and their natural circadian rhythm.1 These three other stages are known as NREM sleep, or non-rapid eye movement.

The N1 stage occurs when you first fall asleep. Most people are in this stage for around ten minutes or less, making it the shortest sleep cycle. Your body doesn't fully relax in this stage, but everything slows down and prepares you for a deeper sleep.

The N2 stage lasts less than half an hour and introduces a slightly deeper sleep. You'll be breathing slower during this time. Around half of all your time asleep during a full night's rest may be in this stage.

The N3 stage is deep sleep. Your brain emits delta waves, or slow, brain waves, that can boost your creativity and memory. As you continue your sleep cycles, this phase gets shorter and shorter, and you spend more time in REM sleep instead.

What Happens During REM Sleep?

In REM sleep, your brain is almost as active as when awake. This stage is when you dream. Not getting enough REM sleep might lead to difficulties with memory and learning. REM sleep makes up around one-fourth of your night, depending on how many sleep cycles you've gone through.

Why Is REM Sleep Important? 10 Potential Health Benefits

In addition to getting more rest to benefit how you function the next day, REM sleep can enhance several areas of your life.

1. Memory Consolidation

External stimuli often does not affect a person in this stage, so you have a greater period to absorb and cement memories while asleep in the REM stage.2 You need more REM sleep to improve your memory.

2. Motor Skills Learning

This stage of sleep comes in handy with adults who have some sort of brain damage and may need to relearn how to do certain things. Spending more time at rest can promote this development.

3. Language Learning

Now might be the time to learn a new language as you dedicate yourself to better sleep habits. As your REM sleep increases, so does your language learning efficiency.

4. Brain Development

This stage is crucial for children, as REM sleep can promote better brain development. It helps form synapses in the brain, allowing them to grow and learn as they should. Not enough REM sleep might lead to slower-than-average brain development.

5. Weight Loss

When you don't get enough sleep, your body cannot manage blood sugar as effectively as it should, leading to insulin resistance and a harder time losing weight. When you get high-quality sleep, you'll also have more energy to exercise and celebrate what your body can do.

6. Pain Response

When you get less sleep, your inflammatory markers stay high, making you more sensitive.3 Knowing how to get more REM sleep is essential in nurturing a healthy pain response, allowing you to go through your day without hurting as much.

7. Creativity

While you might have the best problem-solving behaviors in the N1 stage, REM sleep will benefit your creativity overall.4 The REM stage of sleep can help you make connections and understand similarities between things in your mind.

8. Emotional Processing

Your brain might subconsciously process your emotions for you in this stage. It could also be why you feel cranky and have difficulty managing your feelings when you don't sleep enough.

9. Lower Dementia Risk

Shorter REM sleep can lead to a higher risk of dementia, a degenerative brain disease.5 You can safeguard your brain by sleeping more each night, allowing yourself to enter REM sleep more often.

10. Good Sleep Quality

Your sleep quality will improve when you go through all the cycles multiple times in a single night. More sleep equals better rest; you've likely seen it for yourself.

How Much REM Sleep Do You Need?

Most adults should aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for all the benefits of suitable, deep sleep.6 Sleep can improve your immune system, boost your energy, and much more. You're doing yourself a disservice by not reaping all the benefits a good rest can give you. When you’re sleep deprived for 12 hours or longer, you have more non-REM sleep during your resting time, so don't try to stay up longer than you should.7

Too much sleep deprivation leads to REM rebound, which means you'll take less time to enter REM sleep. This process is natural and is your body's way of course-correcting. If you think you have a sleep disorder that has led to your REM rebound, consult your doctor so they can evaluate your symptoms.

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Why Am I Not Getting REM Sleep?

The reasons why you’re not getting REM sleep could be due to various factors. However, here are some of the reasons you may experience not enough REM sleep:

  • Alcohol before bed: Alcohol is a natural suppressant of REM sleep and could lead to upsetting dreams.8
  • Depressions and antidepressants: People with depression commonly experience sleep disruptions, while antidepressants can increase the time you take to enter REM sleep.9
  • Late meals: One study noted that late-night meals could decrease overall sleep quality, especially in people with a higher fat intake.10
  • Screens: Blue light can suppress melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. The blue light from screens before bed can also disrupt your circadian rhythm, your internal sleep-wake cycle. 
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea can affect spatial memory by disrupting REM sleep.
  • Stress: Besides slashing your energy levels, stress can also impact your sleep quality and how much rest you get.

Once you know what to watch out for, you can structure your bedtime around the best practices for REM sleep.

How to Improve REM Sleep: 10 Expert Tips

While not entirely comprehensive, this list of 10 items will give you ideas on prioritizing your sleep habits and making better choices. 

1. Creating a Sleep Schedule

Learning to get more REM sleep could be as simple as penciling it in on your schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every night so your body can get used to a particular time to wind down.

2. Cutting Back on Caffeine

Save your coffee for the mornings. You should avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda for a few hours before you wind down for the night. Instead, have something that will make you feel a bit more relaxed.

Opt for tart cherries or their juice if you're craving a snack at night. They feature four compounds that support sleep regulation: serotonin, melatonin, potassium, and tryptophan.

3. Avoiding Tobacco and Alcohol at Night

If you can, you should aim to eliminate smoking from your habits, but that's not always possible. You should at least strive to avoid tobacco products at night, as nicotine can disrupt your sleep, and smoking, in general, might lead to sleep apnea. You might also find falling asleep at the right time challenging, as smoking can be a stimulant.11

Alcohol can suppress REM sleep, which makes it not the most optimal beverage to drink at night. 

4. Regular Exercise

Studies show exercise in the evening can increase REM sleep, making it a perfect candidate to add to your schedule.12 You don't have to stick to intense exercise to reap the benefits; just a bit of movement can make a difference.

5. Relaxing Nighttime Routine

It might take a while to build good habits around your sleep health, but eventually, just getting into your routine may make your eyelids heavy. You could take care of your hygiene (skincare, brushing your teeth, and more) then write in a journal and change into your pajamas. Take intentional time for yourself at night; you’ll likely wind down before bed, meaning you'll spend less time awake.

6. Reading a Book

In one study, around 42 percent of participants thought their sleep improved just from reading a book before bed alone.13 It could be a smart way to improve sleep quality and sleep time, as it naturally decreases screen time. 

7. Proper Hydration

One of the perks of drinking water is that it can help regulate your body temperature, making it easier to fall asleep at night. Go to bed hydrated, and aim to drink enough water during the day to hydrate yourself fully.

8. Maintaining Suitable Sleep Hygiene

You should sleep in a dark, quiet room cooled to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit for your comfort. Invest in blackout curtains to make your space feel more like a sanctuary if you live in an area with lots of outside light.

9. Banishing Your Phone

One of the best things you can do is buy an alarm clock and keep your phone out of your bedroom. You might notice you receive better sleep quality when you aren't scrolling throughout the night.

10. Not Lying in Bed Awake

When insomnia hits, the best thing you can do for yourself is move somewhere else and relax until you feel sleepy. Then, get back up and try to fall asleep in bed again.

Sometimes, you'll find that even the most proven tips don't work well for you. If none of these apply to your situation, consult a medical professional. They'll likely get your regular sleep routine back on track so you can learn how to fall into a deep sleep.

Learn How to Improve REM Sleep With Signos' Expert Advice

Knowing how to get more REM sleep can help you improve your life in several ways. Signos' expert advice can teach you how to improve REM sleep and understand the REM rebound effect.

Signos is devoted to you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle. We offer personalized suggestions to boost your health and improve your life overall with the help of artificial intelligence. Check out our plans to start your journey toward a healthier lifestyle today.

You can learn more about healthy lifestyle practices on Signos' blog.

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References

About the author

Mia Barnes is a health writer and researcher who specializes in nutrition, fitness, and mental health.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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