How much REM Sleep Do You need? Man in clouds

How Much REM Sleep Do You Need? More Than You’re (Probably) Getting.

Written by: Tony Schwartz



Time to read 12 min

Millions of Americans struggle with sleeplessness according to the Center for Disease Control. Nearly ⅓ of adults in the United States suffer from sleep deprivation, which also means that adults in the US are less likely to be getting enough REM sleep to support a healthy lifestyle. First, it is important to understand the definition of REM sleep, how it serves your well-being, and then we will define how much REM sleep you need in the following overview. Get ready to dive into the world of sleep cycles, core and REM stages, and by the end of this post you will have a deep understanding of REM sleep and why it is vitally important for people of all ages.

Key Takeaways


  • There are 2 phases of sleep: Non-REM and REM (Rapid Eye Movement)

  • Lasting about 80-120 minutes per cycle, people usually endure 4-6 cycles per night

  • Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, 25% of which should be REM

  • To achieve optimal sleep cycles, maintain a routined bedtime, make your environment optimal for sleeping, and regularly exercise during the day.

  • Age is a factor for how much sleep you need. Newborns need around 14 to 17 hours, while adults 55+ can get away with 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Understanding the Sleep Cycle

Sleep cycles and stages are a fascinating and important concept because they play such an important role in our ability to function in our everyday lives. If a person is sleep deprived, or even suffering from insomnia, then they are very unlikely to be going through all sleep phases and sleep cycles during the night. Sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue, confusion, memory issues, headaches, decreased immunity, and so many other harmful effects. So by understanding the role of sleep cycles in our lives, we may be able to overcome sleepless nights by reprioritizing the time of day that is most restorative - sleep. 

What is the Sleep Cycle?

The sleep cycle is a pattern that your brain goes through while you are sleeping, and a full cycle includes four stages which repeat every 80 to 120 minutes during the night. These stages are called Stage 1 NREM, Stage 2 NREM, Stage 3 NREM, and REM. By completing multiple cycles per night, we are able to repair, replenish, and restore our bodies from the day-to-day activities that can deteriorate us. Completing 4-6 full cycles per night is recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

The Stages of a Normal Sleep Cycle

The normal sleep cycle begins with its first stage - wake. As you go through your bedtime routine and transition from wakeful to sleep, Stages 1-3 of non-REM begin. Then, the body will enter into REM sleep which is meant to comprise 25% of your sleeping hours. Below we will look at each of these stages in more detail:

  • Wake: Our waking hours are where we spend most of our time. In order to begin a sleep cycle, one must transition from wakeful to sleep by going to bed.

  • Stage 1: Its technical name is N1, and it's a light sleep where you can be easily woken up. Your muscle activity slows down and you might experience sudden muscle twitches.

  • Stage 2: Known as N2, this stage is where you are considered asleep. During this time, your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. This prepares you for deep sleep. Brain waves show a new pattern called sleep spindles.

  • Stage 3: Deep sleep (or slow wave sleep) starts in this stage, which is also called N3 or delta sleep. Here, your brain waves slow to what are known as delta waves. It's very hard to wake someone up from this stage. Most adults spend up to 20% of their night here.

  • Stage 4: This isn't a separate stage but rather the continuation of deep sleep in the N3 phase. It's crucial because it's when the body repairs itself, growth hormone is released, and energy stores are replenished.

  • REM Sleep: Following deep sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) stage occurs. It's when dreams happen as brain activity increases again, similar to when you're awake. Eyes move quickly behind closed lids and it's important for memory consolidation.

The Importance of Deep Sleep

Deep sleep, a critical sleep stage, rejuvenates the body and brain through physical repair and memory consolidation. When someone mentions waking up feeling refreshed or “with bells on”, they are likely to have gotten the recommended amount of nightly deep sleep. In general, it is recommended that adults get between 90-120 minutes of deep sleep per night to restore energy levels and perform holistic repairs on the body. Let’s talk a little more about deep sleep, why it’s important, how much deep sleep you need, and the differences between deep sleep and REM. 

What Is Deep Sleep?

Deep sleep occurs during the third stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Your brain waves are at their slowest during deep sleep which means that your body has gone through all of the essential and necessary steps to enter into a deep, restful state. It will seem very difficult to wake someone or be woken up during deep sleep as the body is going through necessary processes, like where declarative memory improves. Declarative memory includes facts from your day, life, and recent events. When sufficient deep sleep occurs, people are more readily able to recall memory. 

In the Encyclopedia of Sleep (2013), Zolovska defines slow-wave sleep or SWS as “follows stage 2 sleep and is characterized by polymorphic, semirhythmic delta waves accounting for at least 20% of the EEG activity. SWS is characterized by relative body immobility. SWS is maximal in young children and markedly decreases with age.”

During deep sleep, your body gets busy fixing itself and making you ready for the next day. Adults often spend about 20% of their sleeping time in this deep stage. If you don't get enough deep sleep, you might have trouble remembering things or your immune system may be less protective.

Why Deep Sleep Matters for Your Health

Deep sleep is very important for your health since it is the time when your body repairs, replenishes, and restores itself through rest. Most adults need to spend about 20% of their sleep in this deep stage. This part of sleep helps your memory and keeps your immune system working well so you can fight off sickness. It is also a critical piece for ensuring you have sustained energy throughout your day. Think about a time when you got a really great night’s sleep and how you felt the following morning. Now, if you continue to build off that momentum of a good night’s rest with more quality nights of sleep then you will start to feel alert, energetic, and may even be in a better mood overall. 

How Much Deep Sleep Do You Need?

For most adults, the Center for Disease Control advises 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If 25% of every night’s sleep should be deep sleep then 90-135 minutes of deep sleep each night is ideal. If you are lacking enough sleep in general then it is very likely that you are lacking deep sleep as well. Therefore, it would be important to increase deep sleep. Here are some tips for increasing the amount of deep sleep you get each night:

  • Stay active during the day

  • Limit caffeine intake

  • Limit/eliminate alcohol

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule

  • Get sunlight exposure during the day. Early sunlight exposure helps begin the circadian rhythm

  • Try sleep gummies as a plant-based melatonin alternative

Factors Affecting Your Sleep

Our daily lives are consumed by environmental factors, interpersonal relationship dynamics, consumption tendencies, and lifestyle choices that affect our sleep. Some of the most common things that affect sleep include stress, caffeine, alcohol, UV exposure, smoking, mental health, and so many others. Each of these factors can play a significant role in whether or not the body and mind can enter a restful state. A less active or healthy lifestyle has a positive correlation on whether someone is getting enough sleep each night.

As we age, our sleep needs change. Our bodies go through different stages of growth and health, which affects how much sleep we need.

  • Newborns need lots of sleep. They should snooze for 14 to 17 hours each day.

  • Babies grow fast and need a lot of rest too. From 4 months to a year, they require about 12 to 16 hours.

  • Toddlers are busy exploring and learning. Kids aged 1 to 2 years should get 11 to 14 hours of shut-eye.

  • Preschoolers still need more sleep than adults. Between ages 3 and 5, they should rest for 10 to 13 hours.

  • Once kids start school, they're not sleeping as much. Between ages 6 and 13, their sweet spot is around 9 to 11 hours.

  • Teenagers have unique sleep patterns. Even though they're busy, teens should try for eight to ten hours each night.

  • Adults keep things steady. Most people between the ages of eighteen and sixty - four do best with seven to nine hours of sleep.

  • Older adults may struggle with snoozing deeply. Those over sixty - five often get less deep sleep and might feel okay after seven to eight hours.

Sleep is crucial for your health. It lets your body and mind rest and recharge. Here's how common sleep disorders can disrupt your sleep stages:

  • Insomnia makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. This issue can cut down on deep sleep, which helps fix your body and store memories.

  • Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing for short times while you're asleep. This disorder often leads to poor quality sleep and less deep sleep.

  • Narcolepsy makes you feel very sleepy during the day. People with narcolepsy might enter REM sleep super fast, skipping important early stages of sleep.

Strategies for Improving Sleep Quality

Millions of Americans are suffering from sleeplessness, insomnia, and sleep deprivation, and so we have compiled a list of tips for improving sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is vital for our brain and body, so there is no more important bodily function for ensuring vitality, longevity, and sufficient energy to carry out all of life’s tasks. Here are some of the best tips for improving sleep:

  • Set a regular bedtime and wake time. Your body loves routine, so go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

  • Make your bedroom a sleep haven. Keep it comfortable, dark, and quiet for the best sleep environment.

  • Cut down on caffeine before bed. Avoid coffee, tea, or soda in the evening so you can fall asleep faster.

  • Power down screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime; this helps with falling asleep.

  • Relax before hitting the pillow. Try reading a book or taking a warm bath to calm your mind.

  • Watch what you eat close to bedtime. Heavy meals can keep you awake, so eat light if you're hungry at night.

  • Exercise regularly but not right before bed. Being active during the day promotes deep sleep but avoid it two hours before sleeping.

  • Skip long naps during the day. They can make it harder for you to enjoy deep sleep at night.

  • Avoid alcohol

Debunking Sleep Myths

Explore the truth behind common sleep misconceptions; not everyone requires a full 8 hours, and catching up on sleep might not work as you think – stay curious for more insights.

Does Everyone Need 8 Hours of Sleep?

Many people think they must sleep for 8 hours each night. But this is not true for everyone. Some folks do well with just 7 hours, while others might need up to 9 hours of sleep to feel their best.

It all depends on the person.

Your body has its own pattern called a circadian rhythm that helps decide how much sleep you need. This rhythm works along with daylight and dark to set your sleep times. Age also plays a big role in how much sleep you need.

As you get older, you might not need as much deep sleep.

The key is to listen to your own body and notice how you feel after different amounts of sleep. This will help you learn what works best for your health and daily life. If you wake up feeling fresh and stay awake during the day, then you're likely getting the right amount of shut-eye!

Can You Catch Up on Lost Sleep?

You might think you can sleep extra on the weekends to make up for lost sleep during the week. But it's not that simple. Your body loves a regular sleep schedule, and when you miss out on sleep, it's tough to get back what was lost.

Sleeping more at later times can't fix the missing deep sleep or REM stages from before.

If you try to catch up by sleeping in, it may mess with your body clock. This could make it harder for you to fall asleep at the right time later on. So instead of trying to catch up all at once, aim for consistent good nights of rest every day.


Unlock the answers to your sleep queries and fine-tune your rest with our insightful FAQ section, shedding light on optimal sleep by age and spotting signs of insufficient deep or REM sleep.

How Much Sleep Do You Need by Age?

Determining how much sleep you need can vary by age, and it is essential to align your sleep habits with the current recommendations to ensure optimal health. Below is a table summarizing sleep requirements by age:

Age Group

Recommended Sleep Duration

Age Group

Recommended Sleep Duration

Newborns (0-3 months)

14 to 17 hours

Infants (4-11 months)

12 to 15 hours

Toddlers (1-2 years)

11 to 14 hours

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

10 to 13 hours

School-age children (6-13 years)

9 to 11 hours

Teenagers (14-17 years)

8 to 10 hours

Young adults (18-25 years)

7 to 9 hours

Adults (26-64 years)

7 to 9 hours

Older adults (65+ years)

7 to 8 hours

Personal health status and individual needs can influence these general guidelines. Short sleepers may function well with less sleep due to inherited traits. However, most adults should aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night. Infants, children, and teens require more sleep to support their growth and development. Older adults may need less sleep but should still prioritize restorative rest. Seek professional advice if you experience sleep-related issues.

What Are the Signs of Inadequate Deep or REM Sleep?

Sleep needs change with age, but one thing remains constant: the need for quality deep and REM sleep. Knowing what to look out for can help identify when you're not getting enough of these critical stages.

  • Feeling tired even after a long night's rest.

  • Having trouble thinking clearly or remembering things from the previous day.

  • Getting sick often because your immune system isn't working well.

  • Being in a bad mood or feeling down without a clear reason.

  • Waking up feeling like you haven't slept at all.

  • Having trouble learning new things or being creative.

  • Experiencing mood swings or being quick to anger.

  • Finding it hard to focus on tasks throughout the day.

What happens if you don't get enough sleep?

If you don't get enough sleep, also known as sleep deprivation, you may feel tired and it can be bad for your heart. Not sleeping enough can lead to a sleep debt.

What is REM sleep and why is it important?

REM stands for rapid-eye-movement sleep. It's a time when we dream and our brains work on storing memories. Getting to this deeper REM phase is needed for a good night's rest.

Can not sleeping well hurt your health?

Yes, not having enough deep or REM sleep can cause health issues like heart disease or make problems like obstructive apnea worse.

How do doctors know how much sleep someone needs?

Doctors called practitioners or MDs study our shut-eye habits in things called overnight studies at places like the Indiana Sleep Center to help us understand what non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) and REM stages mean for our total bedtime routine.

Are there medicines that can help with poor slumber habits?

Yes, there are special medications called nonbenzodiazepines, sedating pills like suvorexant or daridorexant that doctors might suggest to promote better snoozing but talk to an expert before taking these.

Why should I have a regular routine before going to bed?

A nightly routine helps signal your body it’s time for slow-wave activity which means deeper slumber stages where your body rests the most; creating a habit helps avoid fragmented snooze times and problems such as walking in your shut-eye!

Tony Schwartz