CAN YOU HAVE TOO MUCH REM SLEEP?
by Fatin Najihah on Mar 13, 2023
Ever woken up from a long, vivid dream and thought, “What the devil was all that about?” Chances are, you were having an adventure in your REM stage of sleep, where your body may be still, but your mind is dynamically active.
REM sleep happens every night, but several factors can affect the amount you experience. In this blog, we’ll look at how and why it occurs, how much you ideally need each night, and what happens if you experience too much REM sleep.
WHAT IS REM SLEEP?
REM is the unique fourth stage of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement (hence the name) and brain activity patterns similar to when you are awake.
This movement of your eyes behind your eyelids, the increased speed of brainwaves, and temperature fluctuations are why some scientists call REM “active sleep.” However, during this stage of sleep your muscle activity is suppressed, so you remain physically relatively still.
REM is essential for your mental and emotional recovery. During this sleep stage, your brain transfers short-term memories from your motor cortex to your temporal lobe, ensuring they become long-term memories.
However, research has shown that REM sleep helps you heal from traumatic experiences by suppressing troubling memories. That is why having adequate rest after a stressful day is an integral part of your recovery process.
HOW MUCH REM SLEEP DO YOU NEED?
The amount of REM sleep we have each night varies throughout our lives. For most adults, it’s usually around 90 minutes, but this doesn’t happen all at once but during different cycles of your sleep.
REM is one of the four sleep stages, with the others being non-REM (NREM) stages 1-3. During the night, you will experience multiple cycles of sleep, flowing through each of these stages during each cycle, with REM coming last after the light and deep sleep of NREM.
During your first sleep cycle each night, your REM stage will be short, lasting only a few minutes. But as your cycles continue, your REM sleep will get longer until your last cycle, which typically lasts around an hour.
REM is the stage where you do most (but not all) of your dreaming. As most REM occurs during your later sleep cycles, you sometimes feel like you’ve just been dreaming when you wake up.
However, having this structure to your sleep also means that if your rest is a little shorter than the average 7-9 hours, then REM is the stage you’ll miss out on the most. Other factors affecting the amount of REM sleep include some medications and consuming alcohol a few hours before bed.
Poor concentration, trouble remembering things, a lack of energy, and low mood are all signs that you’re not sleeping enough and, thus, probably not experiencing enough REM at night. However, it’s important to focus on having a good amount of rest each night rather than worrying too much about a particular stage of sleep.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
When you regularly have deep, restorative sleep, around 20% of this sleep will be in the REM stage, sometimes as much as 25%. Your body is also clever and understands the importance of REM sleep, so if you missed out on a suitable amount one night, it prioritizes this sleep stage the next night by ensuring you begin REM earlier.
When you experience an unusually large amount of REM sleep during one night, it’s because your body has recognized that you were sleep deprived and is helping you correct that. So, occasionally having too much REM sleep isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.
Regularly sleeping too much or too little can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm. If you often find yourself sleeping longer than the average 7-9 hours each night or feeling like sleep is made up of too much REM, then you could be experiencing REM rebound.
Waking up after a night of vivid dreams can feel quite disorientating. Having this happen most nights can be particularly confusing, especially when accompanied by headaches or mental fogginess. Symptoms like this can sometimes signal that you’re experiencing REM rebound sleep.
Also known as the REM rebound effect, this rest and recovery phenomenon occurs when your body stays in this stage longer than usual. Either your overall sleep will be longer than average, or the proportion of REM sleep will be more than usual.
REM rebound usually results from being extremely stressed or sleep-deprived, so it is an adaptive response to your daily life. However, it can also occur after someone stops regularly consuming drugs or alcohol, experiences depression, or has treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.
Most people’s sleep-wake cycle will return to normal once they have made up their sleep debt. For some, this can take days or weeks, depending on the reason for the initial sleep disruption.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOU’RE HAVING TOO MUCH
One of the best ways to understand if you are oversleeping or experiencing too much REM sleep is to track your nightly rest and recovery.
Polar sports watches feature sleep analysis technology, like Nightly Recharge™, which can give you a detailed understanding of your sleep stages each night. If you are experiencing too much REM sleep, it can also help you manage your stress if this is the cause.
It’s important to remember that fixing your inclination to oversleep isn’t achieved by reducing the number of hours you snooze but by sleeping better. You can achieve this by maintaining regular sleep and wake times, being mindful of your use of caffeine and alcohol, and creating a nightly routine to guide you into slumber.
The answer is yes – but it’s usually not something to worry about.
As we have discussed:
- REM, also known as “active sleep,” is the stage where your eyes move, your brain activity is intense, and you tend to dream a lot.
- It is vital for mental and emotional recovery as it processes your short-term memories into long-term ones.
- Most adults usually have around 90 minutes of REM each night, with most of it occurring in the last hour of your rest.
- Less sleep usually means less REM.
- Too much REM sleep usually occurs when you have been stressed or sleep deprived.
- In extreme cases, it can cause REM rebound, where your body stays in this stage longer than usual, but your body will correct this over time.
Remember, tracking your rest is a great way to understand your sleep stages and manage your stress. Taking the time to understand the way you sleep will ultimately help you rest, recover and enjoy life more every day.