Are you getting enough REM sleep? Learn all about how you can get the deep sleep you desire

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Are you getting enough REM sleep? Learn all about how you can get the deep sleep you desire

Sleep is a vital exercise that allows our complex bodies to function, rest and recharge so we can go about our day doing what we need to stay healthy. It also plays a critical role in our physical and mental development.

Even after decades of research, the exact reason why we sleep remains one of the most intriguing mysteries in health science (1). But scientists agree on one thing: the benefits of a full night’s sleep have been found to affect almost all types of tissues and systems in our body. This ranges from the brain, heart, and lungs, to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. In fact, recent findings showed that sleep plays a vital role in removing toxins in the brain that build up while we are awake (2).

REM and non-REM sleep

Even while we’re sleeping, the body and brain stay extraordinarily active. So sleep isn’t a completely static state of being as the brain continues to work through your sleep cycles.

Once you fall asleep, your body begins the sleep cycle. It is divided into four stages: three non-REM (non-Rapid Eye Movement) stages, and the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage.

At the first stage of non-REM sleep, the body is starting to relax itself, with the heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slowing down, with just the occasional twitches of activity in the brain and body. This could last from 1 to 5 minutes as everything starts to wind down for the day.

If a person isn’t interrupted at this non-REM sleep stage (as it is easy to do), the sleeper can quickly move on to stage two of non-REM sleep where the body temperature starts to drop, and the body muscles are relaxing further. Breathing and heartbeat slow down more as well, and eye movement stops at this stage. The stage two of non-REM sleep can last for around 10 to 25 minutes during the first sleep cycle (3). A sleeper usually spends around half the night in this stage.

It is pretty hard to wake up the sleeper as the stage three of non-REM sleep hits; the brain’s activity shifts into an identifiable pattern called delta waves or short-wave sleep. Delta sleep can last for 20 to 40 minutes (4).

And we finally reach REM sleep. It was named as such because of the quick eye movement under your closed eyelids. REM sleep usually happens around 90 minutes in and makes up about a quarter of a night’s sleep, which now alternates with stage three non-REM sleep.

In REM sleep, the brain isn’t relaxed at all. Instead, the brain on REM sleep finds its activity going up, almost to the same levels while a person is awake. This is opposite to what basically is a temporary paralysis of the muscles in the body, except for those muscles that control the eyes and breathing.

REM Sleep

Dreams

Everyone dreams when asleep, but it is at its most vivid at the REM stage of sleep. Researchers have observed that a sleeper’s eye movements correspond with what is happening in dreams, reacting like we watch movies on screen (5). Some people dream in colour, while others only remember dreaming in black and white.

While dreaming’s exact purpose isn’t known, it is said to help us process our emotions. The events that happen while we are awake often stay in our heads even while asleep, which leads to a jumble of dream imagery. Those who suffer from psychological disorders are believed to be more likely to have frightening dreams (6).

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep

Sleep is crucial to our health and well-being. Babies sleep at least 16 to 18 hours a day to boost their growth and development (7). School children and teenagers should, on average, sleep at least 9.5 hours at night, while most adults need around seven to nine hours of slumber. But after the age of 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter and interrupted by multiple awakenings (8).

So what happens if we shorten or completely forgo sleep? The brain loses its ability to focus, pay attention, and be vigilant, making it hard for a person to receive new information. The neurons in our brains are unable to function properly to sort previously learned information from incoming information. In fact, researchers have found out that REM sleep appears to play an important part in combining procedural memory that is significant in remembering to perform something (like riding a bike or playing the piano) (9). Aside from that, REM sleep is also important in cognitive functions like memory, learning, and creativity (10).

We can also suffer impaired judgment. We can lose the ability to make sound decisions because we can no longer assess situations, make plans accordingly, and choose how to respond to the situation given (11).

Chronic sleeplessness to the point of fatigue or exhaustion makes us unable to perform well in our daily tasks and jobs during the day, and can result in accidents and injuries.

Aside from affecting our performance, lack of sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, a weakened immune system, mental health concerns, extreme weight gain, and other severe health problems (12).

How can we improve our quality of sleep?

There are lots of things that can distract us from getting the right amount of sleep needed. Everything, from spending too much time on computers and smartphones, to working the night shift, travelling across time zones, or just poor sleeping habits, keep us from getting a good night’s snooze.

Establishing a good sleeping habit is as important as having a balanced diet. To have a good sleeping habit, try having an environment that is conducive for relaxing and changing your lifestyle (13). If going to sleep naturally is difficult, here are the things you can do to get a good night's rest.

Ideally, we sleep in our bedrooms. To get ourselves comfortable, consider the following:

  • Room temperature. A room that is too warm can interfere with our sleep, so does having a very cold one. The best bedroom temperature for sleep is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). This may vary by a few degrees from person to person, but most doctors recommend keeping the thermostat set between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius) for the most comfortable sleep (14).
  • Light. Our body uses the light around us to signal our internal body clock if it is time to wake up or time to sleep, and triggers to release hormones that promote either alertness or sleep. So try keeping your bedroom dark, either by turning off the lights when it's time to sleep or use a night light if you find it uncomfortable to sleep with no light on. Block outside light by installing curtains or blinds on your windows, or if all that’s impossible, use a sleep mask to cover your eyes.
  • Sound. Loud or harsh noises can keep you awake or may interrupt your sleep. Blackout curtains can help in filtering outside noises, but if that doesn't work, try listening to white noise, relaxing music, or sounds that help you relax (piano playing, rain sounds, etc.).
REM Sleep

As for before bedtime habits, try keeping these in mind:

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine. Develop a sequence of activities that will signal your brain and body that it’s time to sleep - like brushing your teeth, taking a warm bath, changing into comfortable pajamas. Also aim to sleep at the same time nightly.
  • Wake up on time. It’s easy to hit the snooze button of the alarm and mutter “five more minutes” to yourself. But aiming to get out of bed at the same time every day (even on weekends or holidays) helps you feel sleepier come bedtime as well.
  • Skip large meals. Eating a lot before sleeping can cause restless sleep, so try to have your dinner more than three hours before going to sleep, at the very least.
  • Cut down alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Although some people claim that coffee makes them sleepy, and too much alcoholic drinks can easily make you go asleep, they do not offer the most ideal of sleep quality circumstances. Best to avoid them altogether before sleeping.
  • Have a stress-free bedroom. Try to resolve any work issues, arguments, or worries you have before preparing for bed. Don’t use the bed for anything other than sleeping on it. If you find yourself unable to sleep at around the 20-minute mark, get out of bed and do something light, like reading a book or journaling (writing down the day’s events and/or the things that stress you out during the day can help you empty your mind).
  • Minimise drinking fluids. Hydration is important, but too much of it keeps you up at night with multiple trips to the bathroom to pee.
  • Eliminate naps. They interfere with nighttime sleep. But if you have to, keep naptime to no longer than 30 minutes, and take it earlier in the day.

There are various prescription and over-the-counter medicines and supplements available to help with sleep. But it is always better to seek advice from a licensed doctor or a health care practitioner first if you think you need to take them. Should you have that doctor’s approval, you can consider taking supplements that promote sleep, like melatonin, valerian, magnesium, and ashwagandha.

Supplements that support better sleep

If you are considering supplements to help with sleep, here are some options to consider:

Magnesium night powder

Magnesium is an essential mineral necessary for every major biological process in our body, including energy production, muscle contraction, cardiovascular function and nervous system health. Taken at night, magnesium night powder can help to support brain function and muscle relaxation. It also enhances the body's adaptation to stress, supports refreshing sleep, ensures refreshing sleep, and helps maintain healthy sleeping patterns.

Ashwagandha

Another natural sleep aid to consider is ashwagandha. Also called “Indian winter cherry” or “Indian ginseng”, ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs used in Ayurveda (a system of traditional medicine native to India) that has been in use for roughly a thousand years as a Rasayana, or tonic (15). It is traditionally used to enhance the functions of the main and nervous systems, improves memory, and enhances the body’s resilience to stress.

Ashwagandha is commonly available as a powder that can be taken as a tea, but also as a supplement. It is used as a natural sleep aid because of its root extract that has been shown to improve sleep quality. Ashwagandha’s chemical components also have alkaloids that are considered to be sedatives in treating sleeping disorders.

With the advent of technology and our busy lifestyles, we often disregard our personal and physical limitations. But making sure that we get enough sleep at night can help ensure that we think clearly about our lives, our actions, and everything else in between.

Sleep supplements, like Vitable multivitamin packs, can help with sleep issues when paired with a healthy lifestyle and diet. What's more, you can avail of Vitable's subscription vitamins service, with vitamin delivery in Australia to ensure that you receive sufficient nutrients for the body.

Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:

Ashwagandha | Magnesium Night Powder

*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.

References:

1. Suni, Eric. "Stages of Sleep."  Sleep Foundation. Published (n.d.) on https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works . Accessed 6 October 2021

2.  National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published (n.d.) on https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep . Accessed 6 October 2021.

3. Suni, Eric. "Stages of Sleep."  Sleep Foundation. Published (n.d.) on https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works . Accessed 6 October 2021

4. Suni, Eric. "Stages of Sleep."  Sleep Foundation. Published (n.d.) on https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works . Accessed 6 October 2021

5. Better Health. "Sleep explained." Better Health. Published (n.d.) on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep . Accessed 6 October 2021.

6.  National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published (n.d.) on https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep#5 . Accessed 6 October 2021.

7. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published (n.d.) on https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep#4 . Accessed 6 October 2021.

8. Healthy Sleep. "Sleep, Learning, and Memory." Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Published (n.d.) on http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory . Accessed 7 October 2021.

9. Healthy Sleep. "Sleep, Learning, and Memory." Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Published (n.d.) on http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory . Accessed 7 October 2021.

10. Suni, Eric. "Stages of Sleep."  Sleep Foundation. Published (n.d.) on https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works . Accessed 6 October 2021.

11. Healthy Sleep. "Sleep, Learning, and Memory." Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Published (n.d.) on http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory . Accessed 7 October 2021.

12. Healthdirect. "Sleep." Published (n.d.) on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sleep . Accessed 6 October 2021.

13. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Healthy Sleep Habits." Published (n.d.) on https://sleepeducation.org/healthy-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits/ . Accessed 7 October 2021.

14. Pacheco, D., Wright, H., " The Best Temperature for Sleep.” Published 4 June 2021 on https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/best-temperature-for-sleep . Accessed 10 October 2021.

15. Singh, N., Bhalla, M., et al., "An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda." Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. Published 3 July 2011 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/ . Accessed 7 October 2021.