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What is REM & NREM Sleep & Why Are These Sleep Schedules Important?

Posted on by Sleep Expert

A REM cycle is a phrase we have probably heard a lot, but have never truly understood the meaning of. During our nightly sleep, we go through different stages of sleep, all of which contribute to our overall health and wellbeing. In this article, we will be looking at the difference between our REM and NREM cycles as well as how vital both of these stages are. 

What is a REM Cycle?

When you fall asleep at night you fall between, what sleep experts refer to as, REM and non-REM sleep. In laymen's terms, REM stands for rapid eye movement, which happens when you close your eyes and they move around quickly, typically in a range of directions. During your REM cycle, you won’t be sending any visual information to your brain. 

As you sleep and you enter your REM cycle, your brain activity will increase again, which means that your sleep cannot be deep. Similar to when you are awake, your brain will be processing a number of thoughts, feelings and won’t be fully ‘turned off’. If you are someone who finds that they have intense dreams during the evening, these will typically take place in the REM portion of your sleeping cycle. Whilst your brain is extremely active during these intervals, you will find that your major muscle groups, like your arms and legs, won’t be able to move. 

What is NREM Sleep?

NREM stands for non-REM, which is when the brain is more relaxed and actually falls into a deeper level of sleep. Typically, in your sleeping cycle, non-REM will take place first and during this stage, your brain will produce little activity or brain waves. Ever notice that some people are hard to wake up? That is probably because they are in this stage of rest. If you do wake someone up who is in this portion of their sleep cycle, then you will find that they are probably groggy and disoriented.


Why Are Our REM & NREM Sleep Cycles So Important?

Whilst NREM sleep sounds more beneficial than REM, both actually play key roles in our development. REM sleep means that we have extremely intense brain activity, where we experience vivid and exciting dreams. Whilst this means our brains aren’t fully resting, it does help when it comes to our memory and learning. Whereas NREM sleep aids our body in a more physical way, as it allows us to fall into a deeper snooze, meaning we feel more rested and full of energy in the morning.

As we sleep, our bodies naturally move through these cycles, going from non-REM sleep to REM sleep, taking the benefits from both. Typically, you will start with non-REM sleep then you will have a short burst of your nightly REM cycle, which will be full of big, exciting, and maybe even complex dreams, then again, fall into a relaxing bout of NREM sleep again.

A sleeping cycle is a vital component of having a healthy lifestyle. For children and young adults, deep sleep or the NREM cycle supports their growth and helps both their bodies and minds develop. During their sleeping period, they actually release growth hormones, which they will need for cell growth and to repair damages. In adults, sleep helps their central nervous system, prevents them from developing various health conditions, and also, supports general healthy wellbeing.  


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