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Understanding Sleep: REM and Non-REM

Understanding Sleep: REM and Non-REM
21 September, 2021

Understanding Sleep: REM and Non-REM

Understanding Sleep: REM and Non-REM

- By Irene Vergos, Healthcare Pharmacist at Direct Chemist Outlet

Sleep affects almost every type of system in our body and is vital for our health and well-being. Scientific research is evolving and continues to provide a better understanding with what happens in the brain during sleep. Many of us have heard of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, but what do these terms really mean?

Throughout our nightly sleep, our brain goes through several rounds of sleep cycles which are composed of different types of sleep and stages. The two broad categories of sleep that occur during a sleep cycle include:

  • Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep


Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep

Most people begin their sleep cycle with the 4 stages of NREM sleep, followed by a short period of REM sleep. NREM makes up three-quarters of your sleep time.

The stages of NREM sleep include:

Stage 1 – dozing, where our body switches to being awake and falling asleep. This stage normally lasts between 1- 7 minutes at the start of sleep. An uninterrupted sleeper may not spend much more time in stage 1 as they move further through sleep cycles.

Stage 2 – light sleep, where our heart rate and breathing regulate and your body temperature drops. During this stage we can still be woken up fairly easily. This stage can last for about 25 minutes during the first sleep cycle and becomes longer during the night. Typically, a person spends half their sleep time in stage 2 sleep.

Stage 3 & 4 – deep restorative sleep, where our blood pressure, heart rate and breathing become very slow and your muscles relax. Some people may talk or walk in their sleep at this time too. Deep sleep most often occurs during the first third of the night.


Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep

Under normal circumstances, we don’t enter into a REM sleep stage until we have been asleep for about 90 -120 minutes.

As we cycle into REM sleep, our eyes tend to dart about behind closed lids. Our brain activity picks up, becoming more similar to wakefulness and our breath rate increases.

Most of our dreaming occurs during REM sleep. Our muscles become temporarily paralysed, which prevents us from acting out our dreams.  

REM sleep makes up about one-quarter of our night’s sleep. During the initial cycle, the REM period may last only 1 to 5 minutes, however it becomes progressively prolonged as the sleep episode progresses, especially in the second half of the night. As we get older, we tend to spend less time in REM sleep.



DISCLAIMER: This material contains general information about medical conditions and treatments and is intended for educational purposes only. It does not constitute medical or professional advice, nor should it be used for the purposes of diagnosing or treating any illness. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your local pharmacist or health provider to obtain professional advice relevant to your specific circumstances.





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