Most people associate Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep with a period of sleep in which dreams are most vivid. While this is often the case, there is much more to REM sleep than dreams.
Prior to extensive research in the 1920s, it was believed that the brain was in a passive state during sleep. Modern research has discovered that during REM sleep brain activity is nearly as active as during periods of wakefulness. In fact, the brain experiences several periods, or stages, of activity and inactivity throughout the sleep process.
Why is REM Sleep so Critical?
REM sleep stimulates the regions of the brain that are used when learning. Scientists believe this may be a critical component of brain develop during infancy, which explains why infants spend more time in a state of REM sleep than adults.
Some studies indicate that REM sleep affects learning when it comes to certain mental skills. People who are taught a certain skill and subsequently denied non-REM sleep were able to recall what they learned after sleeping. Those who were, on the other hand, deprived of REM sleep were unable to do so.
How Can You Stimulate or Improve REM Sleep?
Whether your interests lie in improving study quality or simply improving sleep quality, improving REM sleep is generally a good thing to strive for. There are several steps you can take that will assist in your efforts to get more REM sleep as well as to improve the quality of the REM sleep you get, including the steps below.
Stop Smoking – It sounds overly simplistic and almost every malady in the world is blamed on smoking, but heavy smokers tend to be light sleepers and this diminishes the amount of REM sleep you’re able to get in an average night. Smokers also wake frequently during the night as a result of nicotine withdrawal making it more difficult to slip into or maintain REM sleep.
Cut out Caffeine – Consuming caffeine before going to bed can prevent you from falling asleep or remaining asleep. Anytime you’re looking for better REM sleep or sleep in general, caffeine consumption is a good place to being looking for the culprit. If you’re not ready to cut caffeine out altogether, consider at least cutting it off after a certain time each day.
Knock Off the Nightcaps – This doesn’t mean the caps old people wear to sleep. This is the adult beverage version of nightcap. Alcohol can aid, in some cases, in falling into a light stage of sleep. However, it’s known to prevent people from entering into REM and deeper, healthier, and more restorative forms of sleep.
Consider Your Prescriptions – Some prescription medications actually serve to prevent you from entering into a state of REM sleep. Find out about any medications and herbal remedies you may be taking and their effects on REM sleep. If you’re taking medication that may impair this stage of sleep, ask your physician if it would be possible to switch to medications that do not interfere with REM sleep.
If all else fails, change your sleeping environment. Look for mattresses that offer firm support while also providing adequate comfort and pressure point relief. Lower the temperature inside your bedroom at night. And set aside an adequate amount of time, at least 7.5 hours to get the sleep you need at night.
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