What are REM and Non-REM Sleep? Does it cause nightmares?

REM sleep

During sleep, the brain repeatedly cycles through distinct stages of REM and non-REM sleep in a specific sequence. REM sleep stands for rapid eye movement and is linked with dreams and the body’s reactions and responses to the dreams. Non-REM sleep, on the other hand, stands for non-rapid eye movement and consists of three phases of sleep, from getting drowsy to the period of deep sleep that is needed by an individual to gain the energy for the coming day.

REM sleep  lasts for about 90 minutes to 2 hours. You may have intense dreams during REM sleep because your brain is more active. Your muscles get temporarily paralyzed, so you generally do not move during typical REM.

The three stages of non-REM sleep last for about 5-15 minutes each.

  1. Stage 1: Even with your eyes closed, you are easy to wake up since you are not in a deep sleep.
  2. Stage 2: Your heart rate starts slowing down, and the body temperature drops. The body is getting ready to go into a deep sleep but is still in a light sleep condition.
  3. Stage 3: This is a deep sleep stage. It is hard for you to wake up on your own when you’re in this stage. If someone wakes you up, you can fall asleep within a few minutes. During this stage, your muscles start healing; hence this is an essential part of your sleep. After this stage, you slowly divulge into REM sleep and start dreaming.

What are the causes of REM sleep?

According to research, the neural pathways in the brain supposed to prevent muscles from moving are active while dreaming in REM sleep. This inhibits your body, legs, or arms from moving, i.e., result in temporary paralysis. In some cases, the neural pathways and the chemical that keeps your body still don’t serve their purpose. As a result, you might develop disorders like sleepwalking or sleep behavior disorder (RBD).

When should you see the doctor?

Once  you have a REM sleep behavior disorder, you should seek a doctor’s advice and treatment.

What are its symptoms?

  • Sleep Talking: Vocal response to your dreams, laughing, talking, shouting, cursing, emotional outbursts in the form of crying.
  • Physical movement: Movement in response to violent dreams like kicking, punching, or even running from the bed.

What are the complications of REM sleep? Does it cause nightmares?

REM sleep is the stage of your sleep when you go through intense dreaming. Nightmares are threatening, upsetting dreams that bother you and are troublesome. These occur more frequently during REM sleep. When you start physically acting out in response to your nightmares, you are on the verge of having REM sleep behavior disorder. Other complications include:

  • Distress or trouble caused to your partner or the person sleeping next to you.
  • Injury to oneself or the sleeping partner
  • Distortion of the objects lying near one’s bed.

What are the risk factors of REM sleep behavior disorder?

Certain factors associated with REM sleep behavior disorder include:

  • Taking unnecessary drugs: Ingestion of antidepressants and  sleeping pills can damage your regular sleeping pattern and lead to risks of getting RBD. Consumption of hard drugs and alcohol may also lead to this condition.
  • Males over 50-year-olds are at risk of having this condition. However , women are also at risk, especially if they are exposed to alcohol and other drugs.
  • Having certain neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease previously can lead to RBD and accompany some other conditions in your sleep.

How to diagnose REM sleep behavior disorder?

According to how troubling or major your symptoms are, the doctor will decide whether you need an overnight sleep study.

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How to treat REM sleep behavior disorder?

Medication can most often treat REM sleep behavior disorder successfully in most cases. One of the most effectively used medicines suggested and used for this condition is Clonazepam. Ingesting this might come with certain side effects like morning sleepiness, concentration problem, and decreased balance.

Your doctor may also prescribe you melatonin (a hormone), a dietary supplement responsible for your sleep/wake cycles. Ingesting melatonin can eliminate these symptoms with time and offer you peaceful sleep. Melatonin brings fewer side effects with it. For a long-term outlook of your sleep health, you should stay aware of other conditions like Parkinson’s disease and keep yourself updated and regularly checked.

What are the precautions you can take for REM sleep?

When you or your sleeping partner start noticing some behavioral changes in your sleep, start paying attention to whether they are the symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder. Once you mark any such physical or vocal response while asleep, on a regular basis, seek help from your  doctor. Some precautions you can take to have  safe sleep are:

  • Remove the sharp or expensive objects from your bedside. Objects such as weapons or valuable watches, cell phones have to be removed from near you.
  • Think of padding the floor near your bed. The physical responses like jumping from bed and falling might hurt you. Put a soft rug near your bed to prevent this.
  • Place barriers on the sides of your bed. This is one of the most important precautions.
  • Sleep a little away from your partner if you notice them being hurt by your movements during sleep.
  • Maintain a standard sleep pattern. Make a sleep timetable and make sure you follow it.


You might not get repeated episodes of RBD, but one such episode is enough to scare you about the disorder coming your way. It is your body, and you are responsible for taking care of it. Do not neglect any noticeable changes; consult your doctor. REM sleep behavior disorder can be treated easily if you don’t let it increase.

Frequently Asked Questions on REM sleep

What are dreams?

Dreams are reflections of our subconscious mind. They occur during certain stages of sleep. We mostly dream during the REM stage of sleep, where you are less likely to recall your dream.

What is the perfect amount of sleep we should get?

Research has found that babies should get about 10 hours of sleep for their growth and development. Young adults should target getting about 7-9 hours of sleep for the proper functioning of their body. The elderly (65 and above) should get 7-8 hours of sleep a day.

Why does one talk during  sleep?

Sleep talking is a condition one faces if there is a REM sleep behavior disorder. This condition is the prolongation of REM sleep, and one reacts to the dreams. Extreme conditions require a doctor’s consultation.