Did you grow up listening to REM in the 80’s like I did and not have a clue what REM meant? We didn’t have google back then and to be honest I was only interested in the songs and learning the lyrics so I could sing along (badly).
REM stands for Rapid eye Movement, which occurs after the first 4 stages of sleep. It happens approximately 70 minutes after falling asleep and follows in approx. cycles of 90 minutes, with each cycle including a larger proportion of REM sleep.
During a night of sleep, one usually experiences about four or five periods of REM sleep.
Sleeping at the right times and for the right duration help train the body to recognise when to step up serotonin production. We all need serotonin, this is the neurotransmitter responsible for the mood we are in and has links to the prevention of anxiety and depression.
Rapid Eye Movement is essential for processing our thoughts and experiences we have had that day. If you wake up remembering you have had some weird lucid dreams then you know you have reached REM. You can look up your dreams on www.dreammoods.com to try and make sense of them as they tend to carry a meaning!
Interestingly enough did you know a newborn baby spends more than 80% of total sleep time in REM. I wonder what they dream about?
Substances that affect the functioning of the central nervous system to inhibit REM sleep include 2 standard alcoholic drinks, cannabis, sleeping tablets such as valium and any type of antidepressant. They all have a detrimental effect on getting the essential REM sleep we need in order to solve the emotional content of your problems.
So we go to the doctors who tend to prescribe antidepressants for anxiety and depression, numb our feelings by drinking alcohol when we feel stressed or take sleeping tablets for insomnia.
I’m wondering how helpful these methods are when they actually interrupt the sleep pattern so we don’t gain the benefits of reaching the stage of deep sleep, which is REM?
Whilst I appreciate peoples circumstances and environment can play an important factor, here are my top tips for reaching REM and improving your memory, problem solving skills and emotional & physical health.
1. Sleep hygiene is crucial. Ideally you need a nice comfortable bed, a dark room with no blue lights from electronics or wifi, a good routine when it comes to bedtime and try and wind down before you go to bed. A thriller or a discussion which heightens bodily arousal would best be avoided.
2. Peace and quiet. The longer you sleep without interruptions the better, you will experience longer periods of REM sleep if you can get a good nights sleep. How about investing in some good earplugs, blocking out your partners snoring or the cats fighting outside.
3. Avoid committing to a late night and an early start, what you really need is to give yourself an opportunity for an early night or a lie in.
5. Hot or cold environmental temperatures can reduce the proportion of REM sleep so its worth investing in a decent duvet or a quiet fan to regulate your body heat.
6. If you do wake up and struggle to get back to sleep, take a break and have a cuppa then head back to bed to try and catch up. If you can go back into a deep sleep then you will benefit immensely.
And if all that doesn’t help, another option for you is you to raise your serotonin levels before you go to sleep and that means exercise, whether it’s running, swimming, dancing or anything else that comes to mind.
The choice is yours!