What is REM Sleep?
Everyone knows that the body needs sleep to function properly, but what you may not realize is that not all sleep is equal. There are several stages of sleep through which your body cycles every night. If you aren’t able to reach the deepest levels of sleep, your body still may not be functioning the way it’s meant to. This deep level of sleep is referred to as REM or Rapid Eye Movement. This is the stage of sleep during which most dreaming occurs. It’s also the deepest of the three levels of sleep your body cycles through, which also include light non-REM sleep and deep non-REM sleep.
What It Does
Because REM sleep is the deepest state of relaxation, many important functions occur during that time. When your body is in its REM state, blood pressure drops, heart rate and breathing slow down, body temperature is at its lowest, and the muscles relax completely, leaving you temporarily paralyzed. This is when most of reparative functions occur, including muscle repair, digestion, and regeneration. The REM state is also an important part of your mental health, as dreams are often a side effect of your brain attempting to process the day’s events. Dreams are directly linked with your subconscious, as your mind attempts to process and compartmentalize memories, information, and emotions experienced throughout your day-to-day activities.
When It Occurs
Most REM sleep occurs in segments throughout your nightly sleep cycles. Your brain goes through several stages of sleep as you rest. It starts with light non-REM sleep, then transitions to deep non-REM sleep. You return to light non-REM again, then fall all the way into REM sleep, before restarting the cycle. This cycle typically repeats at least five times during an adequate night’s sleep, with the duration of the stages lengthening each time. The deeper the sleep, the harder it is to wake up from, which is why you may feel groggy or still tired if woken up in the middle of your sleep cycle.
What Can Disrupt It
Experiencing REM sleep is an important part of feeling rested, but there are several factors that can interrupt your sleep cycle and prevent you from getting that all-important deep REM sleep. Poor bedtime habits like excess caffeine or heavy foods can cause your body not to relax properly, preventing REM. There are a number of sleep disorders that can lead to more serious REM disruptions. Sleep apnea obstructs breathing for a few seconds several times a night, pulling your body partially out of deeper sleep and disrupting your cycle. Even slight changes in breathing patterns caused by apnea can prevent the body from getting to sleep quickly, meaning you likely go through fewer sleep cycles before you have to get up in the morning.
Adequate REM sleep is necessary for much of your body’s daily functions, so it’s important to get enough of it. If you think something may be disrupting your sleep cycle, seek treatment soon, so you can get back to feeling rested.
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