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REM Sleep vs NREM Sleep: What Is the Difference?

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Woman and Pug Sleeping on Bed With White Sheets

Sleep is one of the most important activities that everyone needs in order to function properly throughout the day, and there are many factors that can affect your quality and quantity of sleep.

In order to fully understand what all goes into a night of restful sleep, it is important to know the two different kinds of sleep that you get: REM and NREM.

  • REM- Rapid Eye Movement
  • NREM- Non-Rapid Eye Movement

Both REM and NREM sleep occur in different sleeping stages, and they both have their own unique effects on your body. Before diving into the biggest differences between REM and NREM sleep, we should discuss the different stages of sleep.

Stages of Sleep

Have you ever noticed that some days you wake up feeling more energized than others? This can be a result of many things, but most importantly it can depend on which stage of sleep you wake up from. These stages of sleep can be broken down into four categories.

Stage 1

Everybody begins their sleep cycle in stage 1. During this stage is when you will initially begin to experience drowsiness accompanied by a difficulty of keeping your eyes open. It is during this stage that your body begins to relax and enter into stage 2. During stage 1, small disturbances and discomforts can easily wake you up.

Stage 2

Stage 2 of your sleeping cycle accounts for around half of your total night’s sleep. While this sleep is slightly deeper than that of stage 1, it is still easy to be awoken by your surroundings. During this stage, your heart rate will begin to slow, and your body temperature will also begin to decrease.

Stage 3

Stage 3 of your sleeping cycle is where you get your deepest sleep. This deep sleep is how your body rejuvenates and makes you feel refreshed and alert when you wake up. For adolescents and younger children, this stage occurs for longer periods of time. For adults, this stage usually only accounts for around 10 percent of your sleep.

Stage 4

This stage is when you enter REM sleep and is where you have all of your dreams. Stage 4 typically occurs roughly 90 minutes after initially falling asleep and can account for very little of your total sleep time, even though some dreams can feel like they last all night. Once this stage is complete, your body begins the cycle again at stage 1.

On average, you will go through four or five sleep cycles per night, taking an average of 100 minutes to complete. A summary of the sleep cycle is in the chart below.

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
Drowsiness and relaxation occur. Heart rate and body temperature decrease. Your deepest sleep occurs. Where you experience dreaming.

What Is the Difference Between REM and NREM Sleep?

The biggest difference between REM and NREM sleep is the way that it affects your body. To put it simply, your mind is in a thought-like phase during NREM sleep while REM sleep consists of hallucinations and other possible bizarre sights and sounds (dreams).

As the names suggest, the difference between REM and NREM sleep can be found in the eye movement. During NREM sleep, your eyes and mind are dormant, meaning that you will not experience much (if at all) eye movement or thought process. This is just the opposite for REM sleep, as your mind creates these moving thoughts that we call dreams, resulting in movement of the eyes with an increased heart rate.

REM sleep also causes your muscles (with the exception of your heart and diaphragm) to become temporarily paralyzed from your chin down. This is not to be confused with sleep paralysis however, where you are aware that you are awake but are unable to move or speak. Research suggests that this may contribute to sleeping disorders.

How Long Do Both Types of Sleep Occur For?

As mentioned above, you will spend most of your night in stage 2 of the sleeping cycle. However, this can be different for every cycle you go through during the night.

Due to the fact that you experience NREM sleep during three of the four stages of sleeping, you will spend most of your time in this kind of sleep. However, the amount of time you spend in REM sleep will increase for every cycle you complete.

On average, you will spend around 10 minutes in your first REM sleeping stage. After that, each REM stage will increase in duration, typically capping out at around an hour.

Why Do I Only Remember Certain Dreams?

While you may remember certain dreams with specific details including what you saw, heard, or did, some dreams are untraceable, leaving you with little to no knowledge that you ever even had the dream. Rest assured knowing that you do, in fact, dream every night; you just do not always remember them.

Although research has not yet been able to identify for sure what causes this, it is believed that it can be a result of when you are waking up. If you wake up during one of the stages in which you are experiencing NREM sleep, it is unlikely that you will remember details about your dream, given that you remember dreaming at all.

However, waking up during your REM sleep could be the explanation for remembering them. When you wake up directly from a dream, it is still fresh on your mind and can even affect things like your mood and ability to go back to sleep. This could be a result of many things, such as having fear from a bad dream, or even envy from the circumstances you found yourself in during the dream.

Others have claimed that practicing the art of lucid dreaming will help you to remember them. Lucid dreaming is when you are fully aware that you are in a dream and have the ability to control it. It takes a lot of practice, but there are several tips and tricks out there to help you get started.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, the biggest difference between REM and NREM sleep is in your brain and eye activity, along with how deep of a sleep you are getting. It is hard to say whether or not one is more important than the other because they all lead into one another and are all essential for getting a good night’s sleep. If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to check out our other content here at SleepReports. Also, make sure your stay updated on the latest deals for mattresses and pillows to ensure that you are getting your best sleep possible.