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The REM Sleep Cycle – What Does This Sleep Stage Mean?

At one time or another, we’ve all likely woken up after a dream and wondered, ‘What happened? What was that dream about?’ And though we might sometimes remember what we dreamt, we’ve probably all had that feeling of waking up disappointed that we just cannot remember our dreams – even though we know we had them and we so desperately want to remember them. One thing we do know is that REM sleep is the place where a lot of our dreaming happens, along with rapid eye movements, irregular heartbeat and respiration, and faster pulse and breathing. During REM sleep, your eyes move rapidly beneath your eyelids as if you are watching something exciting happen, and the brain switches to different mental imagery each time your eyes move while you sleep. We usually remember dreams upon waking up in the morning, because REM is longer during the last part of the night, and when we wake up we remember that last dream before waking up. If we do not awake for long enough after a dream, we usually don’t remember it.

What Exactly Happens During REM Sleep?

As we talked about in our recent blog post on sleep stages, there are two states of being at night: sleep and wakefulness. Sleep is made up of two different states: REM and non-REM sleep. Non-REM varies according to the degree of disconnection from the outer world (and other physiological processes) from stages 1 to 3 of sleep. Stage 1 is a state of transition from wakefulness to sleep; stage 2 is a more extensive disconnection with different and characteristic electrical activity of the brain; and stage 3 (also known as deep sleep) has the slowest and synchronized electrical brain activity, allowing for body recovery and growth, with the brain being purged of metabolic residues.

All in all, a complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes, with each stage lasting between 5 to 15 minutes. The first sleep cycles each night have relatively short REM sleeps and long periods of deep sleep, but later in the night REM periods lengthen and deep sleep time decreases. Dreams occur towards the end of each of the 4-5 sleep cycles at night. Their duration may be very short during the first part of the night and increase gradually towards the end of the night (which is why we mostly remember our last dream as we wake up in the morning).

REM sleep is characterized by dream activity that helps with emotions and memory organization, and our brain blocking voluntary muscles from action – making it impossible for us to purposefully move (and also preventing us from acting out our dreams). During REM sleep, our heart rate also increases, blood pressure rises, and body temperature falls to its lowest point. REM sleep also stimulates the regions of our brains used in learning – which may be important for normal brain development during infancy, and helps explain why infants spend so much more time in REM sleep than adults.

Knowing about REM sleep also helps us answer what we asked above – which is that people often don’t remember much of their dreams, but that they’re more likely to recall some aspects of a dream if awakened from REM sleep. As we pointed out in our Knowledge Base article on alcohol and sleep, the flipside of REM sleep is that a lack of it can cause memory issues, motor skills deterioration and attention deficit. This happens because REM sleep has the important role that we mentioned in promoting learning skills and memory consolidation.

So Just How Important is REM Sleep?

REM sleep comprises about 20 to 25 percent of total sleep in typical healthy adults. REM sleep doesn’t occur all at once either; instead, periods of REM are mixed in among the other stages of sleep as you move through a series of sleep cycles throughout the night. Research has shown that a full night of sleep—typically in the range of seven to nine hours—is necessary to achieve all the restorative benefits that REM sleep can provide.

REM sleep is also closely linked with mental recharge; it’s a period where your brain refreshes and restores itself. This is one of the reasons why REM sleep is so important, and why a healthy sleep routine with enough REM sleep is essential to feeling mentally and emotionally well, and to performing at your best during the times you’re awake.

A study published by the American Psychological Association even found that during REM sleep, the brain stores new information into long-term memory, and that when this happens, you’re able to better retain information learned and build upon that knowledge. Some experts even believe that a lack of REM sleep and a lack of dreaming — rather than just poor sleep in general — is what’s responsible for many of the sleep-related health problems Americans suffer from today.

While we still don’t fully know why dream activity is so critical to healthy brains, scientists do agree that having adequate amounts of REM is essential, as REM is the sleep stage associated with the feeling of refreshment the moment you wake up after a good night’s sleep.

About Sleeprate

For people who want to gain deeper insights into their sleeping habits and sleep data – including the time spent in REM sleep and in deep sleep – Sleeprate provides the valuable and important data you need. Sleeprate can track your sleep stages, as well as help identify sleep-wake patterns and measure sleep duration, efficiency and structure. Using a sophisticated algorithm based on heart rate variability, Sleeprate will determine exactly how long it takes you to fall asleep every night, and then guides you through a step-by-step program where you learn techniques that enable you to fall asleep faster and have better quality sleep throughout the night.

Sleeprate’s advanced sleep monitoring, assessment, and therapy creates the most reliable, effective, and best sleep tracking solution available today. Our unique sleep evaluation solution for better sleep-life balance was developed and customized as a step-by-step program to improve mental and physical performance, so that people can be more productive and effective each and every day. Sleeprate’s comprehensive all-in-one solution helps people achieve a better sleep-life balance and improve mental and physical performance – giving them the opportunity to lead a more productive and healthier lifestyle.


To learn more about Sleeprate and how we’ve helped provide the most innovative and sophisticated sleep treatment solution in the market today, visit us at  You can also download our Sleeprate app (available in the Play Store and App Store), for in-depth insights into the different stages of your sleep, including the ability to see the amount of time you spent in different sleep stages and when they occurred.