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Facts You Need to Know About REM Sleep

Rapid eye movement sleep, also known as REM sleep,  is one of the five stages of sleep that most people will experience each time they take a nap. This condition can be characterized by the eyes moving in all different directions over a short space of time, usually a few seconds.

The voluntary muscles should be in paralysis during this time but some cases have shown movement of the fingers, toes and face. Whilst sleeping, or just after waking, the person will not be aware of the different stages of sleep. The mind does not have the ability to detect changes in sleeping levels and will just think it has had one long, continuous and uninterrupted sleep. 

The first stage of sleep will usually last between 5 and 10 minutes. You will be extremely susceptible to being woken out of this stage by noises around you. At this stage of sleep, if you are woken up, you will think you just closed your eyes or blinked for a second. The eye movement and muscle movement is slow. This is also the stage when a person can jump or be startled due to muscle contraction.

The second stage is primarily aimed at preparing a person for going into a deep sleep. The muscles will be getting more relaxed. The body temperature decreases and the heart rate slows down. If you are woken during this stage, you should be aware that you had been sleeping. 

The third stage, light sleep, is closely linked with the fourth stage. During light sleep, you will be completely relaxed and muscle movement should be minimal. Your brainwave activity should be creating a slow delta wave pattern. 

rem sleepOnce you have reached the fourth stage you will now be soundly in a deep sleep. This is the point where someone would find it difficult to wake you. Your muscles should show no movement and your brainwave pattern is in deep delta.

The fifth is the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs; your brain activity levels should be very close to when you are awake. It is thought that this brain activity causes dreams. Rapid eye movement occurs during the dream stage. 


Test results show that a person’s highest percentage of REM sleep is achieved during early childhood or infancy. This could be because very young children need an average of up to 16 hours of sleep each day to help development to occur. It has been concluded through extensive sleep studies that you spend about 25% of your sleep in a rapid eye movement state, and 75% in other stages.


The complete sleep cycle can take between 90 to 120 minutes to finish and it is thought that a person can go through up to 5 of these cycles during one night, depending on the duration of sleep. The period of rapid eye movement sleep is thought to be less at the start of the first cycle, allowing more time for deep sleep as a result of how tired you are. 

The longer your sleep goes on, and the more cycles you complete, the longer the periods of rapid eye movement become. Tests show that if a person has been sleep deprived for a few days, the body naturally extends the periods of REM sleep the cycles produce, to counteract the lost REM periods over the previous few days.

rem sleepThere is a hypothesis that when you are in stage five of the sleep cycle, or the dreaming stage, rapid eye movement occurs because you are scanning your dream world. This eye movement may occur because the brain cannot differentiate between the process of scanning your surroundings whilst awake and scanning your surroundings in your dream state. This is only a hypothesis and in no way conclusive. 

Polysomnography (PSG) tests, or sleep tests, are usually carried out in sleep disorder units of hospitals, or in specialized snoring centers. This type of test can measure brainwave activity, eye movement, jaw movement, airflow, heart rates and oxygen saturation levels and has allowed real breakthroughs to occur in understanding what the body goes through during sleep.

REM Sleep and Memory Brain Functions

These functions are known as brain plasticity. This is the process where new information, learned or read, can be permanently stored or cemented into the brains memory for future recognition. 

Rapid eye movement sleep is generally deemed to be beneficial because it is thought that this is the brain's way of cataloguing and processing data that has been collected during the hours of being awake. This could be where the popular saying comes from “why don’t you sleep on it before making a decision". The time you spend sleeping allows the brain to correlate data and can help you think with a clearer head.

rem sleepSleep walking disorder is usually quite rare. This occurs when the brain fails to fully awaken after being roused from a deep sleep. This disorder can be quite dangerous and embarrassing to a sufferer because they have absolutely no idea what they are doing, or where they are going. It can occur for only a few seconds or last up to half an hour.

REM sleep disorder however, can be detrimental to a person’s health. During the dream stage of sleeping, a person can physically act out the dream they are having instead of just in their mind. 

Usually the muscles in the body are resting in paralysis and are unable to move during this stage. 

However, in the case of this disorder a sufferer can punch and kick depending on what they are dreaming about. In extreme cases, if they are having a nightmare or violent dream, they could potentially hurt themselves or their partner by lashing out.

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