REM Sleep, Memory, and Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp

    Don't just get more sleep - get more REM sleep!

    There’s a lot more people talking about the science of sleep lately. One of the key buzzwords floating around is something called REM sleep. But what is it, and why is it important? Believe it or not, REM sleep is one of the most important things for a healthy adult brain – and it’s also one of the most common things that people aren’t getting! Let’s take a minute to talk more about REM sleep, and help you figure out how to get more of it.

    What Is REM Sleep, and Why Do We Need It?

    The dictionary defines REM sleep as “a kind of sleep that occurs at intervals during the night and is characterized by rapid eye movements, more dreaming and bodily movement, and faster pulse and breathing.” The Wikipedia entry on REM sleep also adds that it is the stage of sleep where people dream vividly. Indeed, REM sleep is all of these things – but so much more.

    Sleep experts sometimes refer to REM sleep as “paradoxical sleep”. This is because unlike deep sleep or some of the light sleep stages, your brain waves and neurological activity spike to such a high level that it almost mimics waking consciousness. The most important thing for seniors to know is that REM sleep is the only stage of sleep where the human brain can sort through, consolidate, and manage its memory storage. When you don’t get enough REM sleep, this doesn’t happen. As a matter of fact, a lack of REM sleep may cause your brain to:

    • Erase memories you want to hold on to
    • Failed to make new, important memories that you need to remember
    • Make it harder to remember specific words or people’s names
    • Get lost more easily or have trouble following directions

    Unfortunately, when people don’t get enough sleep at night, the body usually sacrifices the REM stage of its sleep cycle first. This is exceptionally dangerous for seniors because the older you get, the more likely you are to suffer from segmented sleep and shorter sleep cycles. But don’t worry – there are methods to increase the amount of REM sleep you get in order to keep your memory as intact for as long as possible while you age.

    How to Get More REM Sleep

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    Don’t worry – getting more REM sleep isn’t rocket science!

    Here are the main things you need to know about what affects your REM sleep – and how to tweak those variables so that you can get more of this precious sleep stage:

    • Alcohol – Your body cannot enter the REM sleep stage if it is too busy metabolizing alcohol. If you do plan on having a drink or two with dinner, keep it to a minimum, and give your body a good buffer between your final sip and putting your head on the pillow; experts suggest at least 3 hours in between.
    • Exercise – Experts aren’t quite sure why yet, but people who exercise on a regular basis have been shown in study after study to get more REM sleep on a more consistent basis. So get up and get moving if you aren’t already!
    • Your mood – People who suffer from depression or chronic stress often experience disruptions in REM sleep, so talk to your doctor about that if you aren’t currently being treated for either condition. Certain antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can also interfere with REM sleep, so if you notice your energy levels have changed or that you’ve been a little bit more forgetful since starting any new medication, bring that up with your doctor as well.
    • Sleep tracking devices – They aren’t 100% accurate, but it’s a good place to start if you are concerned about getting enough REM sleep. Pro tip: make sure the device has some sort of heart rate monitoring mechanism in order to get the most accurate reading.
    • Hydration – Hydrating and drinking more of your fluids during the day should be a priority; drinking any fluid too close to bedtime can force you to wake up in the middle of the night and completely throw off your sleep cycle.
    • Your Sleep Schedule – Studies show that in test subjects who are unsure of how much total sleep they’re going to get, their body will sacrifice REM sleep By 67% or more! But when you go to bed and get up at the same time each day, your body will feel more secure about dedicating more time to REM sleep as opposed to the other sleep stages.

    The REM stage of the human sleep cycle can be as elusive as it is necessary for healthy memory functionality. But if you exercise more, regulate your sleep schedule, and put away the vino, you can start drastically improving your REM sleep tonight!