REM is the last phase of sleep. It’s categorized by the presence of rapid eye movements, muscle paralysis, rapid heart rate, and increased shallow breathing. REM, like deep sleep, accounts for 1.5 to 2 hours of total sleep time and is prioritized during the second half of the night. Cutting a night’s sleep short by 2 hours may cut 25% of total sleep, but up to 50% of total REM. This pattern can have dangerous short- and long-term side effects.
REM sleep is core to your brain’s ability to consolidate, organize, and file memorizes. During REM sleep, memories, including good, but particularly bad or painful, are softened and filed for long-term storage. Here, a reduction in trauma, fear, and negative but protective primal instincts are separated from memories. This process reduces the chances that trauma can cause someone to become emotionally inaccessible, as is the case with PTSD.
Dream or REM sleep is essential to emotional recovery and vital for learning. REM sleep is also extremely energizing. The body remains paralyzed, unable to move, scream, cry, run, or laugh, but the mind is very active. The brain activity of REM sleep looks most like an awake, active brain; the only difference being sleep paralysis.
If your REM sleep is less than 1.5 hours, try these strategies to increase its duration.
Set a bedtime alarm for 1 hour before bed
A pre-bedtime alarm can remind you to start winding down, turn off electronics, and stop looking at screens. Wrap up your evening tasks and begin to prepare for your bedtime routine, which may involve washing your face, brushing your teeth, writing in a journal, saying a prayer, meditating, or stretching. Dim your lights and use lamps or candles to avoid bright, harsh lighting. You can also use this time to draw a warm bath or take a hot shower before bed.
Stay in bed longer when possible
Set an alarm for 5-10 minutes later for an extra 20-50 minutes of REM sleep per week.
Check alcohol use
Many people use nightcaps to relax and decompress before sleep, but alcohol interferes with deep sleep. Consuming alcohol even 12 hours before bed can significantly affect sleep quality, and drinking closer to bedtime is even more impactful. Alcohol triggers a rise in body temperature, and increased heart rate, and disrupts REM sleep, a phase that’s crucial for recovery.
Check your cannabis use
Although THC is often used as a sleep aid, there are mixed results regarding the effect of cannabis on sleep. Research suggests that THC can have a negative impact on REM sleep length and quality.