It can be difficult to prioritize your sleep. You have other priorities in life, after all, beyond getting a little shuteye. You have upcoming work deadlines, big projects, and demanding clients. You have family obligations and friends. You need to exercise each day and at least try to eat a healthy dinner. With all of that, and with only so many hours in the day, sleep just may take a back seat sometimes.
However, if you’re pushing off sleep in order to get that last email answered, you may be doing yourself (and your career and other obligations) more harm than you think. REM sleep is vitally important for your creativity, your memory, and your overall job performance. The Sleep Foundation also reports that it helps you recover from stressful events and boosts your physical well-being.
Here’s what you need to know to get your sleep on track — as well as three tips you can use to increase REM sleep naturally.
What Is REM Sleep and Why Do You Need It?
During REM sleep (which officially stands for rapid-eye-movement sleep due to a period within the sleep cycle in which sleepers’ eyes move rapidly), your brain operates as it does when you’re awake and, so, you dream.
According to The Sleep Foundation, REM sleep accounts for about 20% to 25% of your total sleep time. However, if you’re not getting enough sleep, your body isn’t actually spending enough time in REM.
The Foundation explains that “you experience your first cycle of REM sleep about 60 to 90 minutes after falling asleep. As part of a full night’s sleep, you cycle through four stages of sleep multiple times: three stages of non-REM sleep, followed by one stage of REM sleep. Each cycle through all the sleep stages takes 90 to 120 minutes to complete. With each new cycle, you spend increasing amounts of time in REM sleep, with most of your REM sleep taking place in the second half of the night.”
If REM sleep is so valuable, though, what’s the point of the sleep cycle and why do we need non-REM sleep?
Well, according to Matthew Walker in his book Why We Sleep, the brain goes through a cleansing process during non-REM sleep during which it eliminates unnecessary neural connections (memories you don’t need — such as the color of the car that honked at you yesterday, or the words to a song you haven’t heard in years) and then strengthens necessary neural connections in the REM stage of sleep. The longer you sleep, the more unnecessary neural connections your brain removes, so it can focus more on REM sleep, later in the night, and strengthen valuable connections.
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation is a silent killer. However, not getting enough REM sleep can specifically cause chaos in your life.
If you don’t get enough REM sleep, according to The Sleep Foundation, your brain can’t create enough new cells. REM sleep deprivation, though, is linked to overall sleep deprivation, which can lead to:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor memory
- Lack of awareness
- Cognitive decline
- Mental illness,
- Cardiovascular diseases.
REM Sleep and Work: Benefits of Getting Enough REM Sleep
On the flip side, if you do get enough REM sleep, you’ll see the benefits in your work and in all areas of your life. If you’re still not seeing how you can possibly prioritize sleep with everything else on your plate, you’ll want to take special note of these benefits. You’ll easily see how sleep is a smart use of your time, yielding a high ROI and helping you do more, with less time overall — so much so that you likely won’t even notice the loss of the time that you’re allocating to sleep.
When you prioritize REM sleep, you’ll be able to…
- Retain more information
- Strengthen brain development for future learning and skill building
- Tap into higher emotional processing and creativity
- Likely put in less effort to fight those extra pounds, as REM sleep is a natural preventative against obesity
- Improve mental concentration
- Achieve greater self-control
It all sounds great, right?
If you’re ready to start improving work productivity through better sleep, and you can recognize the correlation between REM sleep and emotional processing, and the importance of REM sleep for memory consolidation, here’s how to get started naturally increasing your REM sleep, according to The Sleep Foundation.
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3 Tips for Deeper REM Sleep
1. Develop a Sleep Schedule.
Look up tips for getting more sleep, and you’ll read lots about choosing the right mattress for better sleep or protecting against blue light for better sleep, but one of the easiest things you can do? Just develop a simple sleep schedule.
Better yet, schedule your bedtime and wake time into your calendar.
Go to bed at an ideal time and wake up at the same time, every single day, as regularly as possible. The more irregular your sleep, the harder it is for your body to maintain its sleep cycles, meaning that you may not get as much REM sleep as you could, even if you’re sleeping for more than seven hours per night.
2. Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, and Tobacco.
You probably already know that if you have caffeine too late in the day, you’ll end up staying awake well after you’d like to be asleep, or that if you have one too many drinks at night, you’ll wake up mid-snooze and struggle to get back to sleep. While it can be difficult, try to limit alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco intake before bed — and overall.
You may also find that some mood-regulation medications affect REM sleep. If this is the case for you, consider talking to your healthcare provider about alternative and/or additional treatment options.
3. Care for Your Sleep Hygiene.
Just as you care for your personal hygiene and other health needs, care for your sleep hygiene with the same diligence. Limit screen time before bed (or, if you must use tech before bed, use blue light-blocking glasses). Create a relaxing ritual to get your body ready for bed, such as taking a bath, reading, or journaling.
If you worry you may have a sleep disorder, go see a sleep specialist — just like you would if you were worried about any other aspect of your health.
The Bottom Line
By implementing these sleep tips in your life, you can help set yourself up for achieving deeper REM sleep. And deeper REM sleep can mean stronger memory, enhanced concentration, and better mood regulation.
Wondering about the other ways your health and wellness might be impacting your work performance? Take our health and wellness assessment to get a pulse check on your overall well-being.