We all need plenty of sleep. But just like deep sleep is important, so too is rapid eye movement or REM sleep. Unfortunately, millions of Americans don’t get enough REM sleep or non-REM sleep! This can have negative repercussions for both physical and mental health.
Today, let’s break down how to get more REM sleep by practicing seven smart sleep habits.
What Is REM Sleep?
REM stands for rapid eye movement. REM sleep is one of the primary stages of a normal sleep cycle, during which a sleeper switches between non-REM and REM sleep repeatedly. Each REM sleep “episode” starts at about the 90-minute mark and lasts for 10 minutes up to one hour. If you get between seven and eight hours of sleep, you’ll experience between four and six REM episodes.
Rapid eye movement sleep is called such because it entails your eyes fluttering beneath your eyelids. In contrast, NREM sleep is deeper and usually entails slow, long breathing and minimal movement. REM sleep is the most active stage of sleep overall.
Why Is REM Sleep Important?
While the full purpose of a good night’s sleep, in general, isn’t 100% understood, many experts believe REM sleep has several critical purposes in our overall well-being. REM sleep, and sleep in general, is important for:
- Memory consolidation
- Helping to both maintain and prepare new neural connections
- Assisting with future learning
- Supporting immune system and nervous system function
- Improving working memory
- Brain development in children and adolescents
- Assisting with emotional processing and creativity
On top of that, most, if not all, vivid dreams occur during REM sleep. Because dreams are thought to be important for memory processing and thought organization, REM sleep is also important due to its facilitation of dreams.
Bottom line: REM sleep is essential, and you can’t afford to not get enough of it.
How Can I Get More REM Sleep?
Fortunately, you can enjoy more REM sleep by following a handful of smart sleeping strategies. Generally, the better sleep you get, the more REM sleep you’ll experience by proxy. But there are also ways you can enhance your REM sleep specifically. Let’s get into it.
1. Make & Maintain a Sleep Schedule
Firstly, create and maintain an excellent sleep schedule from the get-go. A sleep schedule includes both a set time you go to sleep and a set time that you wake up each day. It’s not advisable to go to sleep and wake up at different times on the weekend as opposed to during the work week, for instance.
Sleep schedules are beneficial because:
- They train your brain to go to sleep at the same time each day. This can help you get to sleep if you suffer from restlessness or sleep disorders
- They help you wake up on time for work during the work week
- They allow you to maintain good sleep hygiene habits and a bedtime routine
By maintaining a sleep schedule, you can consciously fit in enough time for between four and five complete 90-minute sleep cycles (i.e., between seven and eight hours of sleep). This is important because many Americans don’t get enough sleep due to work obligations, staring at screens for too long, and for other reasons. Once you get enough sleep, you’ll get more REM sleep naturally. In no time at all, you may see improvements in your working memory, mood, energy levels, etc.
2. Avoid Alcohol
Next, try to avoid drinking alcohol before bed. You might think that alcohol makes you sleepy and therefore makes it easier for you to get some REM sleep. While alcohol can make you drowsy initially, this can throw off your circadian rhythm and make it ironically harder to go to sleep when it’s time. If you do want to drink alcohol sometimes, like during a social occasion, combine it with a few glasses of water so that you are still hydrated before slumber. Overall, though, avoiding alcohol is one of the best bets to enter the REM stage and enjoy some pleasant dreams.
3. Don’t Drink Caffeine or Smoke Cigarettes After Noon
Just like you should avoid alcohol before bed, so too should you avoid caffeine or cigarettes. However, the time range through which these products can affect your sleep quality is much larger than alcohol.
Generally, you should not drink any caffeine after noon. The same goes for cigarettes. That’s because both of these drugs are stimulants. They can directly interfere with your sleep cycle and how easily your brain goes to sleep in the first place.
If you experience a dip in energy around 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., don’t worry — that’s completely normal and a product of a healthy circadian rhythm. You can instead opt for a very mildly caffeinated beverage, like green tea, or simply drink a glass of cold water. Both may have beneficial impacts on your afternoon energy without compromising your ability to get REM sleep later in the day.
4. Avoid Screens for the Hour Before Bed
Most electronic screens emit blue-shifted light. Even if the screen doesn’t seem blue, it is blue to our eyes due to its position on the electromagnetic spectrum. But why does this matter? Our eyes have special receptors that are fine-tuned to blue and red-shifted light. Blue-shifted light stimulates the production of hormones that wake us up. Red-shifted light, like the light emitted during a sunset, triggers the release of melatonin: an important hormone that makes our bodies and brains sleepy.
Therefore, you should try not to look at any screens for about one hour before bed. In doing this, you’ll prepare your eyes and brain for sleep time, making it easier for you to fall asleep once you turn out the lights. Do something relaxing instead, like reading a book. If you must use an electronic device, make sure that it has a nighttime reading setting to minimize or eliminate the blue light emitted by the screen.
5. Create a Sleep Routine
You can also get more REM sleep if you create a relaxing and calming routine that encourages sleepiness. For example, as the night progresses, maybe you:
- Put on your pajamas
- Lay out your clothes for the next day
- Brush your teeth and floss
- Open up a good book and read a few chapters
- Go to sleep after turning on the humidifier by your bed
This is just one example, of course. The exact steps in your routine don’t matter — all that matters is that your steps are calming or comforting and that you repeat them the same way each day to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. This has a beneficial effect on your brain since it creates a positive habit that’s difficult to ignore. Don’t worry if it takes you a few weeks to settle into this habit.
6. Exercise Each Day
At least 30 minutes of exercise each day is good for overall bodily health and for entering the REM sleep cycle (plus preparing you for sleep in general). When you exercise, you burn away stress hormones like cortisol, which can build up during the day and make it harder for you to sleep at night.
More importantly, exercising tires out your body, preparing it for sleep when the sun goes down. If you’ve ever spent the day sitting down and generally being stagnant, you probably found it harder both to go to sleep and stay asleep when you finally laid down. But even a little bit of exercise each day, like light cardio or lifting, may work wonders for making your body crave the pillow and sheets of your bed.
7. Prepare Your Bedroom for Sleep
Even if you are exhausted, it can be difficult to go to sleep if your sleeping environment is not ideal. Therefore, you can get more REM sleep – by helping your mind stay asleep – if you eliminate distractions and disruptions and prepare your bedroom accordingly. Here are some specific ideas:
- Close the blinds or shades so that the morning sun doesn’t wake you up too early
- Turn on a white noise machine or fan so that there’s white noise in the background, which can also help ensure that you aren’t distracted by other noises
- Turn the thermostat down to a few degrees lower than normal to improve your quality of sleep. Most people find it easier to fall asleep if the bedroom is pleasantly cool
- Ensure that your bedroom is dark by turning out any lights and by removing electrical devices that might flash at you in the middle of the night
7. Don’t Lie in Bed if You Can’t Sleep
Lastly, don’t try to fight your body if you’re having difficulty sleeping. If you can’t sleep, get up and do a calm activity, like reading a book or making a healthy snack. Then repeat the last few steps of your sleeping routine and try to go to sleep again. Odds are this will quickly solve your sleeplessness and you’ll be able to get a full night’s rest!
All in all, the more REM sleep you get, the more rested you’ll be and the better your mind and body will feel. Prioritizing REM sleep is just one part of a healthy sleep routine – be sure to keep the above tips in mind the next time you hit the pillow and your REM sleep will be better than ever.
But getting a good night’s rest starts with practicing good daily strategies, too. Whether you want to learn more about supplements, meditation techniques, and other wellness topics, 1AND1 can help. Check out our resources today!
5 Ways to Get More REM Sleep | Sleep Foundation
Rapid-Eye-Movement-Sleep (REM) Associated Enhancement of Working Memory Performance after a Daytime Nap | NCBI
Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | National Institutes of Health