What is Rem Sleep? And Why is It So Important?

What is Rem Sleep?

The term REM sleep refers to rapid eye movement sleep. You may be wondering, how does eye movement affect sleep? Let's look into it.

Sleep Scientist, Dr Dale Rae, takes us through the process:

“Our sleep is broadly broken down into two separate components: REM and non-REM sleep. In non-REM sleep, we move through progressively deeper stages of consciousness (light to intermediate to deep sleep). REM sleep is distinctly different in that the brain is highly active (nearly like a wake up brain), but the muscles that move us are paralysed. It is at this stage that we think we do most of our dreaming.”

NREM Stage 1

With our eyes closed, we’ve only just begun to relax and let go. This is a light sleep stage, so we are still conscious of our surroundings and can be easily woken.

NREM Stage 2

Next we move into a slightly deeper, more tranquil, restful stage of sleep. As our bodies relax, our heart rate will slow down, and our body temperature will drop. We spend about 50% of our nights at this stage.

NREM Stage 3

Now our bodies go into deep sleep. It’s difficult to be woken in this stage. If we were forcibly woken up, we would likely be dazed and disoriented. This deep sleep stage is the critical regenerative sleep when our body tissue is repaired, bone and muscle is built and our immune system is active.


REM sleep is when our brains consolidate information and learn. We store memories and process emotions.

“Moving through the NREM and REM stages of sleep,” notes Dr Rae, “typically lasts for 90 minutes. During the night we will pass through the cycle several times until we have achieved our optimal number of sleep hours. For most people this is around 7-9 hours. So you will likely experience through a NREM and REM sleep cycle about 4 times.”

What Happens During Rem Sleep?

While our bodies are motionless, our brain activity becomes heightened and our breathing rate increases. REM sleep is when we are most likely to have vivid dreams. Our brains turn short-term memories into long-term recall. Think of it as the ‘REMember’ sleep stage. We also process experiences and the emotions we might associate with them. If you are feeling stressed, anxious or irate, REM sleep is what helps you to ‘sleep on it’ and hopefully have a calmer, better perspective in the morning.

How Long Does Rem Sleep Typically Last?

As we go through the NREM and REM cycles, our bouts of REM sleep become longer with each successive cycle. Ideally, we spend 20-25% of our nights in REM sleep. If we have built up a lot of sleep debt, that is, we’ve been putting in late hours and losing sleep, our body will eventually need to make up that sleep and rest longer in a REM state.

How to Get Your Vital Rem Sleep?

Actively prepare yourself for sleep. Quiet things down as you approach bedtime. Ideally, keep the same sleep routine. Put yourself to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Your natural body clock will become used to your routine and more likely achieve deeper states of NREM 3 and REM sleep.

While alcohol can make you drowsy, it also interrupts and compromises your critical deep sleep and REM sleep. Likewise, don’t take stimulants like coffee or sugary foods before bedtime. In fact, have your last meal at least two hours before hitting the sack. This will allow more time for digestion so that you’re not disturbed by tummy rumbles at night.

Deep Sleep With Dial•a•Bed. 

Sleeping on a great mattress is essential for getting REM sleep, but how do you know which one is right for you? Find your nearest Dial•a•Bed store and do a mattress comfort test. If you suspect you have a sleeping disorder and want professional attention and advice, contact a Sleep Science consultant. Combine your sleep routine with a mattress that is best suited to your comfort level and support needs and you’re more likely to sink into REM heaven every night.