Perhaps you’ve been analyzing your sleep stages and noticed REM (or rapid eye movement sleep) is a small percentage of your night. You might think getting more REM could help you have more dreams or even beat sleepiness during the day. Either way, you may want to know how to get more of it.
But, it’s not as simple as that. Not only are all sleep stages important to general well-being and energy levels, there’s actually not a lot you can do to control how long you spend in certain stages of sleep. Plus, at-home sleep tracking is often inaccurate, so you may be getting more REM than you think and it can be difficult to know if any changes you make actually lead to you getting more of it.
The one thing you can control, however, is how long you sleep for overall — and that will directly affect how much REM you get.
Below, we’ll dive into what REM sleep is, how you can get more of it, and why you shouldn’t worry too much about how much of it you get (and what to do instead).
REM sleep stands for rapid eye movement sleep. It’s one of the stages of sleep that we cycle through each night. In total, REM sleep makes up about 20% to 25% of the night.
You’ll most likely have dreams during REM sleep and your eyes can be seen moving quickly underneath your eyelids — hence the name.
A night of sleep is split between non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM sleep) and REM sleep, and it usually looks something like this:
When you’ve moved through all of the sleep stages, you’ll begin a new cycle from the beginning. Each cycle could last between 70 to 120 minutes.
While deep sleep sounds like the most needed stage of sleep, every stage is in fact important. And that includes REM — it’s not just for dreams!
It’s thought that REM is important for:
There’s no one single answer to the question of how much REM sleep you should get. Although research shows REM makes up 20% to 25% of total sleep time, the amount of sleep we all need is highly unique.
This is called your sleep need. It’s determined by genetics and one study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so. However, 13.5% of us may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.
You can find out your sleep need with the RISE app. RISE uses your phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work this out, and it gives you a number to aim for each night in hours and minutes.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
Plus, the amount of REM sleep you need can change from night to night. If you’ve had a few nights of sleep deprivation, for example, you’ll experience REM rebound. This is when your body takes the opportunity to get more REM than usual to make up for what it lost out on.
One study looked at participants who only got six hours of sleep a night for six nights, followed by three recovery nights of 10 hours of sleep. The researchers found the amount of deep sleep didn’t change by much between the six-hour sleep nights and the 10-hour sleep nights. The amount of REM, however, decreased significantly during the restricted nights and then increased significantly during the 10-hour nights (in what’s known scientifically as a ‘REM rebound’, which describes the increased frequency, depth, and intensity of REM sleep following a bout of sleep deprivation).
The researchers said this suggests: “a stronger biological drive to retain deep sleep than REM sleep.”
But, that doesn’t mean REM isn’t needed. Participants experienced hormonal changes and their neurobehavior was impacted, even though deep sleep stayed roughly the same. The researchers said this shows that other stages, like stage 2 and REM, are necessary.
The REM rebound following this period of restricted sleep also shows your brain is very good at self-optimizing and getting the REM it needs when you allow yourself to catch up on lost sleep.
You can learn more about how much REM sleep you need here, and why we say you don’t need to know.
Your sleep tracker might give you the full breakdown of how long you spent in each sleep stage, but even if it were accurate (which studies show it most likely isn’t), the reality is you can’t really do much about it. If you spend eight hours asleep, for example, you can’t decide how those hours will be allocated to different sleep stages.
But, your body is very good at self-optimizing and spending the right amount of time in each sleep stage. You just have to give it the chance by focusing on getting enough sleep overall and making sure this sleep is healthy naturalistic sleep through good sleep hygiene (more on that soon).
Here’s how to make sure you’re getting enough REM sleep.
Use the RISE app to work out your individual sleep need and start aiming for this number each night. When you don’t get enough sleep, you can actually deny your body REM sleep in particular.
While we get some REM sleep as part of each cycle, we get much more of it in the second half of the night, as the time we spend in REM increases with each cycle. So, if you don’t sleep for long enough, your body won’t get to spend as much time as it would like to in REM.
For example, if your sleep need is eight hours and you sleep from midnight to 6 a.m., you’ve lost out on two hours of sleep. But, while that’s just a 25% reduction in total sleep time, that may translate to 60% to 90% of lost REM sleep.
So, getting enough sleep in general is the key to getting enough REM.
Bonus tip: Think about sleep efficiency, or how long you spend in bed actually sleeping. It takes some time for you to fall asleep (also known as sleep latency) and you wake up during the night (also known as sleep fragmentation). So, if your sleep need is 8 hours 30 minutes, you need to be in bed for longer than this to meet your sleep need. Add 30 minutes to an hour to your sleep need and spend this long in bed to ensure you get enough sleep and REM sleep.
Sleep hygiene is the set of daily behaviors you can do to help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night. When your sleep hygiene is on point, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting enough sleep each night, and therefore getting enough REM sleep, too. The sleep you do get will also be set up to include enough REM sleep, as poor sleep habit behaviors like drinking alcohol too close to bedtime can suppress this sleep stage.
Here’s what to do:
To start getting better sleep, you can learn more about sleep hygiene here. And to stay on top of all of these sleep habits, RISE can remind you when to do them at the right times each day.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal biological clock. It runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and dictates things like your energy levels, hormone production, and body temperature throughout the day and night.
You might be out of sync with your circadian rhythm if:
When you’re living out of sync with your circadian rhythm, it’s much harder to get the sleep you need, as you might not feel sleepy when you head to bed, for example.
You can sync up by:
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up a daily Melatonin Window reminder.
While we recommend not worrying about REM, or any other sleep stage, and focusing instead on getting enough sleep overall, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re not getting in the way of getting your REM.
The short answer is no. You can’t do too much about it. Of course, you can cut down on alcohol and avoid sleep medicines, but you should be doing that anyway as part of good sleep hygiene to help you get a good night’s sleep overall.
What’s more, sleep tracking is often unreliable. So, if your fitness tracker says you spent a certain percentage of your sleep time in REM, and you’re trying to get this number up, it may not be something you can trust. In fact, when using just electrical brainwave activity, it’s often impossible to tell REM sleep and wakefulness apart.
Beyond that, it’s important to remember all sleep stages are important for your overall wellness. Deep sleep, for example, strengthens your immune system, and stage 2 is associated with overnight motor skill improvement. So, you shouldn’t focus on just one stage.
Finally, if you’re trying to get more REM sleep to get more energy, improve your mental health, or boost your productivity, for example, meeting your overall sleep need and living in sync with your circadian rhythm are the two most important things to focus on.
If you’re meeting your sleep need and following good sleep hygiene, then you don’t need to worry too much. You’ll be setting your brain and body up to get enough REM sleep, without any additional work needed from you.
Heads-up: You don’t need to worry about how to get more deep sleep, either.
While getting enough REM sleep is important, there’s not much you can do to control how your body cycles through the sleep stages. What you can do, however, is get enough sleep overall, sync up this sleep with your circadian rhythm, and practice good sleep hygiene.
The RISE app can help with all three. The app can work out your unique sleep need, predict your circadian rhythm each day, and guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you stay on top of them.
So, you can stop worrying about getting more REM sleep. If you focus on getting enough sleep overall, your body will take care of the rest.
You can increase your REM sleep by avoiding alcohol, marijuana, and sleep aids. But, the best way to ensure you’re getting enough REM sleep is by getting enough sleep overall as your body will spend the right amount of time in each sleep stage if you give it enough time to do so.
You can increase REM sleep naturally by avoiding alcohol, marijuana, and sleep aids like benzodiazepines. Getting enough sleep in general also ensures you’ll get enough REM sleep, as your body will naturally spend the right amount of time in each stage.
There’s not much research into whether supplements can increase REM sleep. If you want to increase your REM sleep, your best bet is to focus on getting enough healthy sleep in general each night, your body will take care of the rest.
A lack of REM sleep can be caused by not sleeping for long enough, alcohol, marijuana, antidepressants, and sleep aids. To get enough REM sleep, make sure you’re getting enough sleep overall.
REM sleep can make up 20% to 25% of your total sleep time, but we all need a different amount of sleep overall. Plus, you may need a different amount of REM each night depending on how much sleep you’ve been getting recently.
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential