The body cycles between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep stages.
While dreaming occurs in all stages of sleep, most of it happens during REM sleep, the first instance of which occurs about an hour and a half after falling asleep and lasts for around 10 minutes.
The next instances last longer, with the final REM sleep lasting up to one hour.
It’s called rapid eye movement sleep because in this stage, your eyes move quickly in different directions, usually left and right. However, there’s more to REM sleep than just eye movement.
What Happens During REM Sleep?
In contrast to the other sleep stages where the breathing, heart rate and brain waves slow down, during REM sleep the brain is more active, and the heart rate and breathing become faster – nearly the same as when you are awake.
Because the brain is more active, your dreams at this stage are more vivid and intense.
It’s been found that the more often you have REM sleep, the more restful the entire sleep experience is. REM sleep is also believed to play a role in mood, memory and learning. As you age however, you spend less of your time asleep in this stage.
This means that as you get older, you dream less and get less quality sleep.
Lack of Dreaming in REM Sleep
One study has found that lack of dreaming in REM sleep can be linked to cognitive concerns later in life. According to the study, when you experience less REM sleep intervals, there is a 9 percent higher risk of memory and cognitive concerns as you age.
It was also found that if REM sleep was experienced for more than one-fifth of participants’ sleeping hours, no age-related cognitive problems were detected.
The study suggests that to have long-term cognitive health, you need to dream while in REM sleep.
How to Achieve and Increase REM Sleep
Sleep, particularly REM sleep, can be affected by a number of factors including what you eat and drink during the day. For instance, drinking caffeinated beverages can hinder you from getting REM sleep. Sleep aids, antidepressants and nicotine may also suppress REM sleep.
Here are some of the things you can do to make sure you get as much REM sleep as you can.
- Check your mattress and replace if necessary. The bed you sleep on can affect how you sleep at night. Consider using a memory foam mattress to help you sleep better. If you want to achieve REM sleep, you need to be as comfortable as possible. If your mattress is already sagging or lumpy, it may be causing you to toss and turn during the night, preventing you from getting deep sleep, which is a precursor to REM sleep. Choose a mattress that would suit your needs and preferences, such as sleeping position and body temperature regulation.
- Avoid smoking. The nicotine withdrawal your body will experience in the morning will wake you prematurely.
- Don’t drink alcoholic drinks close to bedtime. While many people drink alcohol to get sleepy and overcome insomnia, alcohol (along with caffeine) disrupts the body’s natural chemistry and interferes with its natural sleep process. If you want to have quality sleep, drink tart cherry juice instead.