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REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Not Just a Band But Vital to Sleep

Posted On April 26, 2014
rapid eye movement
April 26, 2014

“Losing My Religion,” “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “The One I Love” are some of the iconic hits of the rock band, R.E.M. Of course, REM is not just about music and a band but vital to sleep. Rather, REM is an acronym for rapid eye movement.

Rapid Eye Movement Explained

REM is one of the five stages of sleep that humans experience throughout the night when heads connect with our pillows. The name is due to what takes place during this stage of sleep, namely short and fast movements of the eye behind closed eyelids. But what few people realize is that during REM, most muscles become paralyzed. Also during this stage of sleep, most of our dreams take place. At times, REM is also referred to as paradoxical sleep due to the fact that both muscular paralysis and brain excitement occur. Although, for some people, paralysis does not take place during their REM cycle. Hence, they can move and sometimes even act out their dreams. When this occurs, the individual might have REM behavior disorder.

So on any given night of sleep, how much time do we spend in the REM stage? On average, we have about four to five REM cycles during the night, which all told amounts to anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes. The first REM cycle occurs shortly after we drift into slumber and is very short in duration. Subsequent REM sleep gradually becomes longer and longer in duration. If you would like to see just how long and often you experience REM, try a free app such as SleepTime or Sleepbot.

During REM sleep, there’s a theory by scientists who believe that our brains are stimulated. In turn, the REM cycle is needed in order for a baby’s brain to maturely develop. As we age, we spend less and less time in the REM stage. It is estimated that babies spend 50 percent of their sleep in the REM stage while as adults, it is only about 20 percent. In addition, when analyzed during a sleep study, the brain produces patterns during REM that is similar to what occurs when the body is awake.

On the flip side, when not in a REM cycle of sleep, people are in a non-REM stage which is actually one through four of the five stages of sleep. REM is the fifth stage of sleep and occurs after we cycle through the other stages, which can typically last 5 to 15 minutes for each. After the REM stage, the whole cycle starts again beginning with non-REM.

What is important to understand is that medications and foods can disrupt our sleep with their impact on the stages of sleep (REM and non-REM). For instance, antidepressant drugs can decrease REM sleep. And people who smoke heavily or drink alcohol tend to not spend a large amount of time in REM sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping or think you have sleep apnea, please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.


About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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