How To Increase REM Sleep Naturally
There’s no doubt that modern living has taken a toll on sleep quality. The reasons for this are varied but in summary, natural sleep cycles have been disrupted by an increase in:
- Artificial light
- Noise levels
- Use of electronic devices late into the night
- Stress hormones, like cortisol, do not get a chance to return to normal, as the challenges of life increase
An estimated 3.5 million Canadians and 50-70 million Americans suffer from chronic or ongoing sleep disruptions, with 40% of adults reporting poor sleep quality. These are staggering numbers. The Canadian Sleep Society reports that each person spends more than $5000 annually on remedies for better sleep. That’s $17,5 billion spent in Canada alone! 
The side effects of poor sleep are fatigue, decreased cognitive function, and difficulty judging situations you are in; including other people’s emotions. Long periods without quality sleep eventually lead to emotional disorders and chronic health problems, like high blood pressure.[1.2]
Don’t believe that lack of sleep can have such a big effect? Would it be more convincing if we told you that some well-known tragedies such as the meltdown of a nuclear reactor (think Chornobyl), grounding of large ships, and plane crashes have been attributed to sleep deprivation? 
For these reasons, you can understand why getting decent sleep has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry. People are desperate to improve their sleep patterns. But what if you want to improve your sleep naturally?
The Holistic Approach
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Tackling sleep disorders requires a multi-faceted approach which can feel like an uphill climb against modern living. But the truth is that improved sleep begins long before you get into bed. Also, it’s not just about getting enough sleep, it’s also about getting enough deep sleep cycles during the night, known as REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep.
Getting more REM sleep should be the goal of everyone who is concerned with a consistent sleep schedule. In this article, we will briefly examine what REM sleep is, and what role it plays in health. Then provide ways for you to increase REM sleep naturally.
With a change in a few basic habits and the use of natural sleep aids, you will get more REM sleep and improve your quality of life.
What is REM sleep?
To answer the question: Why should you get enough REM sleep? You need to understand what it is and what benefit it holds for your body and your well-being.
The REM sleep stage is the 4th stage in nightly sleep cycles, characterized by the following:
- Rapid Eye Movements: As the name suggests, this phase involves quick, random eye movements.
- Increased Brain Activity: Brain activity during REM sleep is similar to that during wakefulness, which is why REM sleep is often associated with vivid dreams.
- Muscle Atonia: Despite the increased brain activity, major voluntary muscle groups become paralyzed, preventing one from acting out dreams.
- Sleep Cycle: REM sleep occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep and alternates with non-REM sleep phases (NREM sleep) throughout the night. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes, and the duration of REM sleep increases with each cycle, especially in the second half of the night. How much REM sleep you need is dependent upon age, but on average adults need around 2-3 REM sleep periods a night. Or 2.5 hours of adequate REM sleep a night.
Some interesting and unique things occur during this stage of sleep.
Intense and vivid dreams - these feel very real, like you lived it. During this stage there is increased brain activity in the areas of emotional processing, visualization, and memory. Along with this, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine increases, and the amygdala (the center for processing emotions and fear) is highly activated. Acetylcholine is very important in regulating the sleep-wake cycle as well as muscle recovery and the organization of information in the brain. All these factors together cause the phenomenon of intense and vivid dreams. The brain is processing the information it has received during the day and re-booting the system.
In combination with vivid dreams is something you can view as a built-in safety mechanism. That is the deep relaxation of your primary muscles, almost like a paralysis where your body cleverly prevents you from moving to act out on the dreams, preventing you from hurting yourself. These are natural mechanisms that your body uses to put things back into balance and should be regarded as such, however, interruptions in these natural processes are what cause the inadequate processing of the day’s challenges and information, resulting in disorder (lack of balance in the body).
The dreams also represent your brain’s creative way of problem-solving. Putting seemingly unrelated concepts together in a dream provides the pathway for you to solve problems when fully conscious. Ever had a ‘bright idea’ as you woke up? You can thank your brain for that one because it solved the problem during the REM sleep stage!
Because REM sleep involves brain functioning and muscle relaxation, it is essential for the health of the brain and also recovery from physical and mental exhaustion. Problems that affect REM sleep will present themselves as emotional dysfunction, decreased resilience, prolonged feelings of anxiety, and slow physical recovery.
Natural solutions for better REM sleep
The solution to treat sleep disorders starts with sleep hygiene. This is the collective term for the steps you take before bedtime, that ensure better sleep. This includes the use of sleeping aids that target the reasons for sleeplessness.
Weighted Blankets for stress-related sleeping disorders
A natural product for sleep disorders taking Canada by storm is the weighted blanket. This blanket contains glass beads, evenly distributed by small pockets (as you can see above), providing you with a heavy blanket that also has therapeutic benefits.
The blanket has been described as having the feeling of a squeeze or a hug, the gentle pressure causes the nervous system (through the skin) to experience a feeling of safety, which has helped people fall asleep faster, get more REM sleep, and supported the treatment of neurological disorders and sleep disorders.
This is one of those solutions that seem too good (and simple) to be true, but online weighted blanket seller, Gravid has over 60,000 happy customers who swear by its effectiveness.
Sound interesting? Learn more about the science behind this natural sleep solution.
White noise machine for noise-related sleeping disorders
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While the weighted blanket provides the gentle pressure that helps you to fall asleep and be more relaxed, activating the processes for REM sleep, a white noise machine will mask disruptive sounds.
By providing a constant auditory backdrop, these machines can prevent sudden noise changes from waking you up or shifting you out of REM sleep prematurely. By minimizing the disruptions that can cause awakenings or shifts between sleep stages, white noise machines can help maintain a more stable and uninterrupted sleep cycle, including longer, more consistent periods of REM sleep.
While many find white noise beneficial for sleep, its effectiveness can vary from person to person. Some may find other types of sound environments, like pink noise or nature sounds, more conducive to sleep. It's also important to consider the volume at which the white noise is played; too loud could potentially have the opposite effect, disrupting sleep or even causing hearing issues over time.
Blackout curtains for artificial light-related sleep disorders
The primary purpose of blackout curtains is to eliminate external light from entering the sleeping area. This is particularly beneficial for individuals who live in urban environments with streetlights or those who work irregular hours and need to sleep during the daytime. The absence of light signals to the brain that it is nighttime, facilitating the natural sleep-wake cycle.
Establish a consistent sleep schedule
This one is really important and probably the hardest to accomplish, but you need to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. This creates the natural circadian rhythm that the body needs to effectively regulated sleep.
Don’t drink alcohol or other stimulants before bedtime
Drinking alcohol or other stimulating drinks such as energy drinks with caffeine will disrupt neurotransmitters that are required for restful sleep and relaxation. Caffeine intake before bedtime is like putting kindling on a fire that should already be going out. Don’t do it if you want to give yourself a good night’s sleep. Try to cut out caffeine anytime from 4 pm, depending on how long your body takes to process caffeine or other stimulants.
Put away the digital devices
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Time spent on digital devices is increasing rapidly. This has been a major cause of sleep problems in our digitally-driven era. We never switch off our devices and so we never switch off our minds and bodies. A recipe for a sleep disaster.
It is the conundrum we face daily. How do we make use of technology without becoming a slave to it? Technological addiction is the obsessive use of technology whether gaming, social media, online shopping, video watching, or anything involving technology. However, it is ruining our ability to get good sleep, rest, and recover from stress-related disorders.
Stop using digital devices at least an hour before bedtime and implement soothing routines instead, such as a warm bath, soft music, reading a book, and lighting candles. The point of this is to ‘zone out’, and let the cares of the world float away.
Comfortable sleep environment
Set up your bedroom as a place for sleep. This will train your brain to recognize it is time to wind down and relax. Understandably, some living spaces may not have a bedroom, but you can help sleep issues greatly if you can set apart an area for sleep that is not associated with working, eating, and other busyness.
Body temperature while sleeping is important, so keep your bedroom cool in summer and warm in winter to improve sleep quality. Help your body and brain to get into relaxation mode as much as possible before bedtime and you will notice significant improvements in concentration, focus, and problem-solving.
Time to sleep, folks
Well, all this talk about sleep and getting a good night’s rest has made us want to try these helpful tips for improving sleep quality.
It’s never too late to improve your health and your well-being by getting enough sleep. There’s a reason you need at least seven hours of something. It’s kinda important.
If you are struggling to sleep due to a stress-related disorder, Gravid would like to help by giving you $100 off your first weighted blanket purchase.
We’re confident these tips will make a huge difference to your sleep patterns, especially your REM sleep. Until our next article, where we give you more advice on how to sleep better, sleep well, and see you soon.