- During REM sleep, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure elevates, and your eyes move.
- REM sleep may also be the time when your brain processes emotions and solidifies memories.
- Your body cycles between REM sleep and non-REM sleep throughout the night.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Sleeping may feel like rest, but while your eyes are closed your body is actually hard at work. While you are sleeping your body cycles through two phases of sleep—rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. During REM sleep, you dream, your heart rate increases, and you even process emotions.
Here’s what you need to know about REM sleep as well as how to get more of it.
What is REM sleep?
When you fall asleep, your body first enters non-REM sleep. This is the stage of sleep where your body builds components like bone and muscle and regenerates tissue.
But after about an hour to an hour and a half, you enter REM sleep. REM sleep usually occurs every 90 to 120 minutes, and it gradually increases in duration, says Lawrence Chan, DO, a sleep medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Your body goes through physical changes during REM sleep, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Higher blood pressure
- Quicker breathing
- Penile erections
- Rapid eye movement
But the brain also does a lot of mental processing during REM sleep. So much so that some people refer to this as the brain’s own internal “therapy” system, says Alex Dimitriu, MD, who is dual board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine, and the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.
Though more research is needed, this therapeutic brain activity during REM sleep is associated with:
- Emotional processing
- Memory consolidation, meaning solidifying experiences into long term memory
- Coping with unpleasant memories
REM is also the stage of sleep most associated with dreaming, although dreams may occur during non-REM sleep as well, says Chan.
25 science-backed tips for how to sleep better
While it’s recommended that adults get seven or more hours of sleep a night, there is not a defined amount of REM sleep that is needed. REM sleep typically accounts for about 20% of sleep time, says Chan.
Though you can’t control how much REM sleep you get, not getting enough sleep altogether can result in the symptoms of sleep deprivation, like:
- Reduced memory
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Reduced ability to lose weight
How to get more REM sleep
You can’t increase REM sleep. However, there’s a chance that you’re getting less REM sleep than normal due to an unhealthy lifestyle. In that case, here are some tips that may boost your quality of sleep:
Treat any sleep disorders: If you have a sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea, this can cause disruptions to your REM sleep. If you think you might have a sleep disorder, it’s important to see a sleep specialist to get the proper testing conducted.
Check your substance use: Substances such as caffeine and alcohol can disrupt REM sleep. Chan says you should stop drinking caffeine at noon to combat this.
Additionally, prescription medications such as pain meds, sedatives, and antidepressants may also affect your REM sleep. Check with your doctor to ask about drug side effects, and do not discontinue any prescription medications unless your doctor tells you to do so.
Maintain good sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene refers to healthy sleep habits that include:
- Having a 30-minute wind-down period before bed
- Keeping your lights dim towards bedtime
- Disconnecting from your electronics
- Keeping your bedroom at a cool temperature (about 65 degrees Fahrenheit)
Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep in general will help ensure that you get a good amount of REM sleep. Remember, REM is more prominent towards the end of the night’s sleep. Aim to clock seven to nine hours each night.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Going to sleep around the same time every night and waking up around the same time every morning can be very beneficial for healthy sleep. This will help you fall asleep easier and wake up feeling more rested.
REM sleep is a unique stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement and muscle paralysis. Most dreams occur during this stage of sleep.
You can’t force yourself to get more REM sleep. However, you can improve your overall quality of sleep by maintaining a regular sleep schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene.
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