REM Sleep Dreams

By: SleepScore Labs  |  October 26th, 2020

REM Sleep Dreams: What Stage Of Sleep Do You Dream? 

Have you ever woken upright in the middle of a peaceful or exciting dream? Maybe you were floating in the ocean in a state of utter bliss, or perhaps you were being chased by outlaws in the Wild West. After you woke up, you might have even found yourself feeling disappointed that you could not finish your dream. If this has happened to you, chances are you were woken up during a period of REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep.  

So, what is REM sleep, and how is it linked to dreaming? What stage of sleep do you dream? Can you dream in all sleep stages? Does dreaming mean you’re getting good sleep? Read on to learn answers to these questions. 

What are the different stages of sleep? 

Every night when you go to sleep, your brain takes you through cycles of different sleep stages throughout the period you’re asleep. These sleep stages generally consist of two broader states: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. 

NREM sleep is further subdivided into three sleep stages:  

  1. Stage 1 NREM sleep: This is the shortest and lightest sleep stage where people can be easily awoken during the night. Most people spend the least amount of time in NREM 1.. During this sleep stage, the muscles start to relax, heartbeat lowers, and breathing rate reduces. Brainwave activity and eye movement also reduce during this stage.  
  2. Stage 2 NREM sleep: This is a light sleep stage that takes you into. Your heartbeat and breathing continue to slow down while your muscles relax. Brain wave activity also slows down, body temperature goes down, and eye movements stop. 
  3. Stage 3 NREM sleep: Also known as deep sleep, this stage is essential for brain and body recovery, growth, and immunity. This is the deepest NREM sleep stage and it’s more difficult to wake someone up during this stage. Body temperature and heart rate are usually at their lowest, and the brain exhibits what are known as “slow waves” of activity which is why NREM-3 is sometimes referred to as “slow-wave sleep”. 

Experts agree that all the sleep stages are important for maintaining healthy sleep, each stage for different reasons. 

We cycle through sleep stages multiple times as the night goes on, approximately in 90-minute timespans. This is known as sleep cycles. NREM-3 is more common during the 1st half of night, and REM is more common during the 2nd half of the night.  

The NREM stages account for about 75% to 85% of your sleeping time, with the remaining 20% to 25% is spent in REM sleep.  

What is REM sleep?  

REM sleep is the sleep stage where most of our dreams happen. It starts about 90 minutes after falling asleep. The American Sleep Association says that three things primarily occur during REM sleep: dreams, limited or no muscle movements (known as muscle atonia, and it happens, so we don’t act out our dreams), and rapid eye movements.  

REM sleep is sometimes referred to as paradoxical sleep because it has similarities to being awake. Breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure rise during this stage. Also, in REM sleep, your brain becomes highly active and functions at levels that are more similar to when you are awake. At times, your brain can be more active during REM sleep compared to when you are awake. Emotion regulation and memory consolidation are processes that take place during this stage. REM sleep also helps the mind recover from distressing experiences by suppressing them.  

REM sleep occurs every 90 to 120 minutes of sleep, and a person may go through up to five cycles of this sleep stage.  

During what stage of sleep do you dream? 

Dreams are often described as an array of images, feelings, and emotions, and they occur primarily during the REM stage of sleep. The content of your dreams can have a noticeable impact on your day.  And, in turn, how your day goes can have an effect on your dreams at night.  

You may spend approximately two hours of sleep dreaming. And you may still wake up without remembering that you had a dream or what happened during the dream. However, if you wake from REM sleep, you’re more likely to recall what you were dreaming about.   

Dreaming is one of the great mysteries of the human experience and of sleep itself. Humans have long wondered about the meaning and purpose of dreams, and cultures have connected dreams to their deepest hopes and fears. Many ancient cultures saw dreams as messages or warnings from the gods. Throughout history, dreams have been regarded as out-of-body explorations for the soul, as a means to communicate with the dead, and as precursors of evil spirits.  

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, said dreams are a landscape for exploring repressed emotions and unconscious desires. But contemporary psychologists and neurologists do not all agree about what it means to dream.  

Can you dream in all sleep stages? 

Yes, you can dream in all sleep stages, but dreams that are vivid and emotional mostly happen during REM sleep. You are also more likely to experience lucid dreams during REM sleep. 

An older study exploring whether NREM dreams are simply a recollection of REM dreams mentioned that dream reports of NREM naps are “less remarkable in quantity, vividness, and emotion than those from REM naps.” However, evidence suggests that dreams can happen in NREM sleep and aren’t just a recollection of REM sleep dreams 

Does dreaming mean you’re getting good sleep? 

Many of us wonder exactly why we dream. There are no definitive answers, but experts have some theories. Research on dreaming explores both the psychological and neurological purpose of dreaming.  

Some theories say that dreams help add new experiences into our memory and process emotional events (including traumatic experiences and other challenges). Our brains may use the process of dreaming to manage and organize data—through memory consolidation and learning—helping clear the brain to take on a new day. 

Dreaming may be the brain’s way of decluttering itself after a long, active day of acquiring new information. These would also mean that dreams are a response to stimuli gathered throughout the day. But dreams could also be a response to external stimuli that occur during sleep. 

Another theory is that dreaming functions as a rehearsal space where the brain readies itself for future real-life experiences and events.  

Finally, some argue that dreaming is nothing more than electrical impulses and brain chemicals. 

Still, dreaming may mean you are getting good sleep because it serves essential functions that make sleep beneficial to the mind. However, it’s important to remember that most people don’t remember their dreams — and there’s nothing wrong with that! You are more likely to remember your dreams if you’re woken up during a REM sleep period. If you don’t remember your dreams, chances are you’re not being woken up during REM sleep. If you ever feel like you might be spending a lot more time dreaming than what is usual for you, it could be that you are experiencing a phenomenon called REM Rebound.  

This tends to occur most often to people who are sleep deprived (and therefore not getting enough REM sleep) or going through heavy stress. REM, like the other stages of sleep, is a biological necessity. If you do not get enough, you can accumulate a debt, and your brain compensates by promoting REM the subsequent night.  

The majority of REM occurs later in the night, so if you only sleep for a short time, you might miss out on the periods when your body typically gets the most REM.   

To make sure you get sufficient REM sleep and can experience its many benefits, make sleep a priority in your life. Schedule enough time for a full night of sleep. For most people, this means 7 or 8 hours. This will allow you to increase the likelihood of getting plenty of REM in the second half of your night.  

Another top tip: Higher bedroom temperatures can lead to lower amounts of REM. For optimal sleep, your bedroom temperature should fall between 64 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as that temperature is still comfortable for you. 

Understanding the stages of sleep can be a first step in improving your sleep health. Learn more in our Library of Sleep. Want to see how much REM sleep you’re getting each night? Download the free SleepScore app and track your sleep tonight using only your smartphone. In the morning, explore your sleep details to see what your night of sleep looked like, including how much REM sleep you got and when you got it.  

Happy dreaming!  


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