During a normal night of sleep, your body goes through what is known as the “sleep cycle” — various stages of sleep that help your body and mind recover from the wear and tear of the day.
One of the most important parts of the sleep cycle is REM sleep, which typically begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. This is the phase of sleep where most people experience more vivid dreams because their brains are more active — but REM sleep is much more than a time for dreaming.
Failing to get enough REM sleep because of interruptions caused by sleep apnea or other disturbances can cause serious issues. Here’s what you should know.
Why REM Sleep Matters
According to the Sleep Foundation, REM sleep plays a vital role for your mental and emotional health. The amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, is active during REM sleep. It is also believed that dreams could play a role in helping with the emotional processing that occurs during REM sleep.
Much of your memory consolidation also occurs during REM sleep. Your brain processes motor skills and other things you have learned during the day, deciding which skills to maintain or memorize, as well as which ones to forget. It is also believed that REM sleep is crucial for brain development — and that this is why babies spend up to half of their time asleep in REM sleep, compared to just 20 percent of total sleep time for adults.
Because the brain is more active during REM sleep, people are also more easily awakened from this sleep stage. It is believed that this is partly because REM sleep prepares you for waking up to start the day.
By allowing your brain to process learned skills, memories, and emotions, REM sleep ultimately plays a key role in emotional and mental health.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough REM Sleep?
When you don’t get enough REM sleep, your mental and emotional health can suffer. One recent study found that the interruption of the “learning” that takes place during REM sleep can result in PTSD-like behavior. Insufficient REM sleep can also contribute to major depressive disorder and anxiety.
Lack of sleep is a problem that tends to compound over time. Forgetfulness and other memory problems may become more common. While you might be irritable and feeling mentally fatigued after a single night of poor sleep, you can’t expect your body to “get used to” interrupted sleep if it becomes your new normal.
The longer your sleep interruptions keep you from getting appropriate amounts of REM sleep (or deep sleep, for that matter), the worse your health will get.
Addressing Common Issues That Can Affect REM Sleep
There are several issues that could keep you from getting enough REM sleep.
REM cycles grow longer later in the night. Your first REM cycle may just be 10 minutes, but by the time you’re going through your third or fourth sleep cycle, the amount of time you spend in REM sleep can increase significantly.
As a result, “short sleepers” who sleep less than six hours per night will often not get enough REM sleep, simply because they didn’t get that last cycle with longer REM sleep. This is especially common if you stay up extra late and don’t set enough time aside to get a full night’s sleep.
Sleep apnea can cause you to wake up throughout the night due to pauses in breathing. When someone is in REM sleep, their body will essentially kick them into a lighter sleep cycle to restart breathing. As a result, their REM sleep is fragmented and shortened compared to people who enjoy uninterrupted sleep.
Other sleep disorders, including narcolepsy and REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), can disrupt REM sleep at night.
If you experience excessive daytime sleepiness or other symptoms associated with poor REM sleep, there are a few things you can do. Start by improving your sleep hygiene so you can fall asleep faster and sleep longer. Reducing light exposure in the evening, avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed, and keeping your bedroom dark can all improve sleep length and quality.
If you continue to have trouble even after improving your sleep hygiene, consider scheduling a sleep study with a specialist. These studies monitor your heart rate, breathing, brain waves, and more during an overnight stay. Doctors can use this information to diagnose sleep disorders and help you develop a personalized treatment plan.
Take Control of Sleep Apnea With a CPAP Machine
Obstructive sleep apnea can significantly limit your ability to get quality REM sleep by causing you to wake up repeatedly as your airways get blocked. And without sufficient REM sleep, your memory, mood, and learning ability can suffer. Fortunately, by using a CPAP machine to deliver pressurized air throughout the night, you can enjoy rejuvenating, uninterrupted sleep.
Unfortunately, CPAP machines can be quite expensive, especially if you don’t have health insurance. This is where No Insurance Medical Supplies comes in. We offer high-quality CPAP equipment from leading brands like ResMed and 3B Medical, often at discounted prices to give you significant savings off of MSRP. Free shipping is also available on orders of $49 and up, and available financing can help you break your purchase into more affordable payments.
With the right medical equipment and sleep habits, you won’t have to worry about getting enough REM sleep. You’ll get the quality rest you need to restore both body and mind.