The Non-REM and REM Sleep Cycle Guide: Dreams & Health

Last Updated on December 27, 2023 by Richard

Are you interested in the REM sleep cycle, because that is when dreams happen?

In recent years scientists have learned that we also dream during non-Rem sleep stages.

Well, I could have told them that 45 years ago.

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Seeing My Future While Dreaming

In 1973 I wrote down all of my dreams for about 6 months. I spent up to 4 hours per day writing them down in my notebooks.

I would wake up during a dream and write some notes, and go back to sleep. When I finally got in the morning, I wrote more notes.

I woke up during the time periods that would be Non-REM sleep and Rem sleep cycle, both.

I finally stopped, because it wasn’t clear that there was any point to it. Man, was I wrong!

I went into work one day and went to an area of the building I didn’t normally work in. I asked my friend Bob a specific question about something that happen at work 3 days earlier. He said he didn’t know anything about it.

I was perplexed, because Bob was there when it happened. It was an event he would not have forgotten. He said he didn’t even work that day.

So, I asked someone else about it, and they had no idea what I was talking about. I asked a third person – they had no idea either.

Now I was worried I was going nuts. So, I didn’t talk to anyone about anything if I didn’t have to. I even stopped drinking.

About two weeks later I went into work and the event I had asked about actually happened while I was there. I was stunned! And happy too! Because I knew I wasn’t crazy – I just saw the future 2 weeks in advance!

I had not written this down in my dream note book, because I thought it was real.

No, Bob and the others didn’t remember that I had asked them about it earlier.

Many of the things I wrote in my dream notebook eventually came true also.

The next event that I recognized very clearly, as it actually happened in real life, was 5 years later. Some of those dreams didn’t become real life for 10-20 years.

No, I can’t Predict My Future From My Dreams

The dream events were so normal to everyday life, and so out of context, that I can’t read my notebook and predict the future.

Yes, I still have dreams that come true. For example, 15 years ago I was selling modular homes.

I had placed the home onto a customer’s poured concrete foundation with a walkout basement. Finally, I walked out the basement door and up the brand new grassy slope to his driveway.

I instantly remembered having seen that exact event in a dream several years earlier. That was long before I had even considered being a modular home dealer.

I remembered that dream vividly, because I woke up thinking about how the rain and snow was going to run down that slope right into the basement. I had no idea from the dream that I would be building modular homes.

Now and then I think I should write a book about all of this, but it would be a lot of work. So, I keep putting it off.

Dreaming woman during REM sleep cycle.

The Non-REM and REM Sleep Cycle

Researchers have now known for a long time that you do not sleep in one long uninterrupted stage but it involves a series of stages.

It doesn’t really matter for most people as sleep is sleep for them. You know that if you do not get a good night’s sleep, you won’t feel right the next day.

To understand why you feel a little out of whack without a good night’s sleep, you need to know that a lot of things are happening in your head while you are sleeping.

The 4 Stages of The Sleep Cycle

Scientists started studying sleep with the invention of EEG or electroencephalograph.

During 1950s, scientists discovered the phenomenon known as the REM sleep cycle.

Further research led scientists to discover that your brain goes through a series of stages while you’re sleeping and these stages are marked by different types of brain wave patterns.

These stages can be typically classified into two main types including:

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

During the start of the sleep cycle, your brain is awake and produces beta waves that are fast and small. Slowly, your brain relaxes and it produces alpha waves that are slower.

This is the phase of sleep where some people experience vivid sensations that might seem strange and are popularly known as hallucinations.

Some of the common examples include hearing someone calling out your name or feeling like you’re in a free fall.

When I was young I would be falling to earth feet first, and just before hitting the ground, I would stop and take one step down – and wake up.

As a teenager, I heard my Father yell my name up the stairs.  I got out of bed and went downstairs to see what he wanted.  My Father was watching the TV and it was obvious that he had not called me.

Another common sensation that you may experience in the state of sleep is being startled suddenly, and it is known as myoclonic jerk.

If you have this feeling, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with you. In fact, these jerks are quite common.

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Sleep Stage #1 NREM Sleep Cycle

This is the start of the sleep cycle and in this stage, you are relatively awake. Many scientists also consider this stage as a transition period between sleeping and wakefulness.

In this stage, high amplitude theta waves are produced by the brain and these are extremely slow brain waves.

It is believed that this stage lasts for around 5 to 10 minutes and if you are awakened during this stage, you will feel that you have not really slept.

Sleep Stage #2 NREM Sleep Cycle

In this stage, the body temperature starts dropping. Your heart rate and breathing becomes more regular. You become much less aware of your surroundings.

It is believed that this stage lasts for a period of around 20 minutes.

In this stage, fast and rhythmic brain waves are produced by the brain and this activity is referred to as sleep spindles.

Experts believe that most people spend around half of their total sleeping time in this stage.

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Sleep Stage #3 NREM Sleep Cycle

In this stage, your muscles start to relax and your breathing rate as well as blood pressure starts to drop. This is the phase where the deepest sleep happens.

Some of my clearest and most vivid dreams were interrupted suddenly, and I found myself sitting up in bed.

In this stage, your brain produces delta waves and this is also the reason, this stage is known as delta sleep.

When you are in this stage, you will become much less responsive and all other activities and noises happening in your vicinity won’t have any effect on you.

This is also the stage that acts as a transition between light sleep and deep sleep.

Some people sleepwalk and that phenomenon typically happens during this stage.

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Sleep Stage #4 REM Sleep Cycle

This is the REM sleep stage. In this stage, your body becomes more relaxed and your brain starts sending and receiving signals to various regions of your body.

The cerebral cortex in your brain receives signals along with your spinal cord.

In this stage, your spinal cord completely shuts off physical movement, and that creates temporary paralysis in your arms and legs.

As I mentioned above, your brain is more active in this phase of sleep.  It is in this phase that the region of your brain that is used for learning is stimulated.

Your eyes move rapidly during this stage and your breathing rate also increases.

Dreams also occur during this stage.

NREM and REM Sleep Cyle Sequences

It is also important for you to know that all these stages do not happen sequentially.

At the beginning, you move to stage #1 and then progress to 2nd and 3rd stage but after the third stage, the second stage is repeated before you go into the REM sleep cycle.

After REM sleep, you return to stage #2 sleep.

Throughout the night, you will cycle through these stages 4 to 5 times. Unless you wake up, and then you would (presumably) start over again.

As far as the REM stage is concerned, you will usually enter that stage around 90 minutes after you fall asleep.

Scientists believe that the time period of the REM stage in the first cycle is limited to just a few minutes, but the time keeps increasing with each cycle.

In fact, the REM stage can last as long as 60 minutes during the last cycle.  That’s why you don’t want your sleep interrupted.

Importance of REM Sleep Cycle

The tools of modern society have made our lives easier.  However, there is no denying the fact that all these modern inventions, and the rapid pace of change has put a lot of stress on people.

This is one of the main reasons, most people do not get enough sleep, and it has a wide range of health consequences including increased risk of heart disease, dementia as well as early death.

Some of the other less dangerous consequences include: irritability and drowsy driving that may lead to accidents or other issues.

The number of hours of sleep is important but more important is the time you spend in the rapid eye movement sleep cycle.

There have been quite a few research studies which concluded that lack of rapid eye movement sleep, combined with the lack of dreaming, as one of the factors responsible for most of the modern health problems faced by people.

In other words, you are likely to face more health issues if you do not get enough rapid eye movement sleep.

The Difference Between REM Sleep And Deep Sleep

Keep in mind that there is a difference between REM sleep and deep sleep.

During deep sleep, your body is more concerned about physical rest and recovery.

On the other hand, when you enter the rapid eye movement sleep stage, your body works on memory consolidation, pain perception, focus as well as concentration.  I suspect plenty of other things also happen during REM sleep.

If you do not get enough REM sleep, it is likely to impact your cognitive performance. Some research studies suggest that it may also affect the cell regeneration process in the body.

Some research studies also suggest that rapid eye movement sleep is linked to pain perception.

In fact, one research study suggests that sufficient rapid eye movement sleep makes people less prone to development of PTSD.

In simple terms, it can be said that there are unique benefits to REM sleep.

Tips To Get More From Your REM Sleep Cycle

Hopefully, you now understand how important rapid eye movement sleep is to relaxation, memory as well as your overall energy levels.

If you are having trouble with your REM sleep cycle, follow the below mentioned tips in order to get more REM sleep.

Consistency Is The Key

The key to enjoying a good night’s sleep every time you go to your bed is to follow a regular routine.

If you keep changing your routine too much, it will be difficult for your body to keep up with the changes, and that will affect your sleeping quality.

Ideally, you should get anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily. Sleeping for 7 to 9 hours on a daily basis will allow you to get more REM sleep.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just cutting one hour off your sleeping schedule won’t have any lasting effect.

Also, you shouldn’t try to make up for your lack of sleep on the weekdays by sleeping for more hours on the weekend. Your body is not designed to work like that. It’s only going to make things worse.

There is also this misconception that your body can quickly adjust to various sleep schedules.

While resetting the biological clock can be achieved with the help of a bit of planning, constantly changing your sleep schedules can play haywire with your health. So, don’t try to change your sleep schedule too much.

No Electronics Before Going To Bed

Most people are in the habit of taking their smart phone, tablet or other electronic devices to bed with them.

Keep in mind that the light on these screens is designed to stimulate the brain which, in turn, suppresses melatonin production in the body and also affects the internal clock of your body.

In other words, try not to take any electronic devices with you on the bed.

Manage Your Sleeping Environment

Another key to enjoying a good night’s sleep every night is to manage your sleeping environment. If you like to sleep in complete darkness, use heavy shades or curtains to ensure that there is absolutely no light visible in your bedroom.

I knew someone that kept their eyes closed when they got up at night to use the restroom.  I think they were onto to something there.

If there are any electronic displays in your room, cover these to avoid any kind of light in your eyes. If that doesn’t work, you also have the option of using a sleep mask for covering your eyes to allow you to get a good night’s sleep.

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Avoid Alcohol or Caffeine before Bedtime

If you are having issues with your sleeping schedule and you still continue to drink alcohol or caffeine in the evening before going to bed, it’s time to give up these stimulants.

Caffeine is commonly found in chocolate, diet drugs, some pain relievers, coffee as well as soft drinks.

It will play haywire with your sleep schedule if you do not cut its consumption considering the fact that 50% of the caffeine consumed at 6 PM in the evening is still in your body at 10 PM.

It is also recommended to restrict alcohol consumption to several hours before bedtime in order to get more REM sleep.

Regular Exercise Or Physical Activity

It is believed that exercising on a regular basis can help you enjoy a good night’s sleep regularly. It will also allow you to stay in the REM sleep cycle stage a bit longer.

However, do not exercise just before going to bed. Instead, you should try to get all your exercise done at least 5 to 6 hours before you go to bed.

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Concluding Thoughts On Sleep Cycles And Health

You now know about the different sleep cycles and the importance of all these sleep cycles. While the REM sleep cycle plays a very important role in your overall well-being, it does not mean that the other sleep cycles are not as important.

In fact, the NREM sleep cycles are as important as the REM sleep cycle. Therefore, you should not focus only on the rapid eye movement sleep while ignoring the non-rapid eye movement sleep cycles.

Ideally, you should eat a balanced diet, exercise daily and avoid taking caffeine or alcohol just before going to bed. It will not only help you rest your body, but also your brain.

Also, you will enjoy far higher energy levels and better moods during the day.

Now that we have the technical stuff out of the way, what about your health?

If you wake up frequently, you are breaking the sleep cycle – both Non-REM and Rem sleep cycles.

That will interrupt the many health related activities that only occur during sleep. Which will have many negative impacts on your overall health.

I have written two articles that expands on the importance of sleep upon your health and happiness:

I’m So Tired But I Can’t Sleep – Dr. Oz Quotes About Sleep

How Common Sleeping Disorders Will Make You Fat

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