Why is REM sleep important?
We spend around one-third of our lives asleep, and getting enough of it vital to enjoy a healthy, happy lifestyle. But did you know that, for us to get what’s considered to be a good night’s sleep, our body must pass through four stages. To understand why REM sleep is important, we must first understand the sleep cycle.
Stage One – Drowsiness
This is the lightest stage of sleep and lasts between one and seven minutes. It’s during stage one that your sleep can be easily interrupted. However, over time your brainwaves will start to slow down as you drift in and out of consciousness. Many people find that they experience involuntary jerks and/or muscle spasms during this stage.
Have you ever had a ‘falling sensation’ as you drift off to sleep? You’re not alone. As your muscles start to relax, your nervous system begins what’s called ‘downshifting’, which can sometimes trick the brain into thinking you’re falling. This is known as a hypnic jerk.
Stage Two – First Stage of NREM Sleep
This stage of sleep usually lasts between 10 and 25 minutes, and it’s during this time that your brain starts to slow right down, and your body starts to enter a more synchronised rhythm, with a decreased core temperature and slowed heart rate. This is also known as the first stage of defined NREM sleep.
Top Tip: if you’re planning a short nap, it’s more beneficial to awaken at this stage, as you’ll feel less groggy than your sleep being interrupted during stage 3.
Stage Three – Deep NREM Sleep
Stage three of the sleep cycle is the deepest stage of sleep, and this is where some people experience sleep walking or talking. This is the stage during which our bodies restore and repair, and our brainwaves are at their slowest. These are also called delta waves.
Stage Four – REM Sleep
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep is the stage during which we dream. Brainwaves are more active during this stage of sleep than they are during stages two and three, which causes our eyes to move around rapidly. Your body is temporarily paralyzed at this stage, allowing your brain to rest, which is vital for feeling more alert the following day.
Why is REM sleep important?
REM sleep makes up around 20% of our overall sleep cycle, and while researchers are still undecided on exactly why REM sleep is so important for healthy brain function, they do agree that having the necessary amount of REM sleep is vital.
When we have a full night of uninterrupted sleep, our brains are able to do some ‘deep cleaning’, so to speak. This gives us the opportunity to remove harmful neurotoxins – some of which have been found in people with Alzheimer’s disease – so less REM means less time spent clearing our minds for the next day. This is why we feel tired all day if we’ve not had enough sleep – if you manage to get enough REM, there’s a better chance you’ll feel refreshed when you awaken.