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The Truth About REM Sleep

The Truth About REM Sleep

We all know sleep is crucial, but we rarely talk about all the structures of sleep that make it so restorative. In this article, we’re diving into the power of REM, one of the four stages of sleep. 

REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep, also known as “paradoxical sleep,” is characterized by, you guessed it, rapid eye movements—and it plays a vital role in how well sleep restores your brain

Each night, your sleeping hours are composed of four sleep stages, three non-REM (NREM) stages and one REM stage. The sleep stages are distinguished by different brain waves, which are electrical patterns in the brain. There are five different types of brain waves, with varying frequencies: 

- Delta waves have the lowest frequency and occur during deep sleep. They are represented as long, wavy lines on an electroencephalogram.

- Theta waves have slightly higher frequencies and are characterized by spiky patterns on a brain wave test. They typically occur during sleep, but can also arise during meditation, creative thought, and intense emotions.

- Alpha waves are present before and during sleep and during relaxation. They can also be accessed through meditation.

- Beta waves are linked to cognitive thought and alertness. They are produced throughout the day while working, driving, or conversing.

- Gamma waves have the highest frequency and appear during moments of acquiring new information and extreme happiness. Experienced meditators have been observed generating gamma waves during deep meditation. These brain waves are recognizable as sharp, short spikes closely packed together.

During the initial three stages of NREM sleep, our brains gradually transition from beta to alpha, then to theta, and eventually to delta waves. However, when REM sleep starts, our brains rapidly shift to high-frequency beta and gamma waves. Despite being paralyzed, our minds remain highly active, similar to when we are awake. Once the REM phase concludes, the cycle restarts, returning to stage 1 of sleep and the gradual descent. The average adult experiences about five 90-minute sleep cycles (one cycle includes all four stages) each night. Awakening during stage 1 or REM sleep is ideal. (Fun fact: waking up during REM sleep heightens the likelihood of dream recall!)


Now that we understand how REM sleep works, we can take a look at how it impacts the brain. Studies have shown that REM sleep is important for memory consolidation and learning. During REM sleep, the brain processes and consolidates newly acquired information, which is then stored in long-term memory. REM sleep has also been linked to creativity and problem-solving, as it allows the brain to make new connections and associations.

REM Regulates

In addition to its cognitive benefits, REM sleep is also important for emotional and physical regulation. During REM sleep, the brain processes emotions, which can help reduce stress and anxiety during waking hours. REM sleep has also been linked to the processing of emotional memories, allowing individuals to better cope with traumatic experiences. During REM sleep, the body also produces human growth hormone (HGH), which is essential for tissue repair and muscle growth. REM has also been linked to immune function, as it allows the body to produce cytokines, which help fight off infections and diseases.

To REM or not to REM

It is worth noting that a lack of REM sleep can have negative effects on our health and well-being. REM sleep deprivation has been linked to several health issues, including cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease. Chronic REM sleep deprivation has also been linked to a weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to infections and diseases. So, not ideal.

Maximize your REM

According to the Sleep Foundation, a leading source for sleep information, “REM sleep should make up around 20% to 25% of a person’s total time asleep.” Certain factors, like obstructive sleep apnea, diet, lack of exercise, and antidepressant use may negatively impact REM sleep. The foundation’s top tip:

“Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Longer periods of REM sleep tend to align with the dip in body temperature that occurs in the early morning hours, which is regulated by the circadian rhythm. Disrupting this balance by keeping irregular sleep-wake times may confuse the body and interfere with REM sleep regulation.”

Want help keeping your bedtime consistent? Beam supplements can help. Shop the Beam best selling Dream Powder or our sleep capsule: Dream Capsules.

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