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A woman sleeping peacefully in a bright, sunny bedroom. Learn how many hours of REM sleep you need in this article.

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How Many Hours of REM Sleep Do You Really Need?

Rather than zeroing in on your REM sleep, experts recommend focusing on getting enough total sleep each night. Here’s why.

By Jessica MigalaApril 2, 2024


If only every morning you could wake up and bound out of bed, ready to take on your day—or your workout. In reality, your attitude toward exercise may greatly hinge on how much sleep you got the previous night. And REM sleep—one of the four stages of sleep—may factor into that. So how many hours of REM sleep do you need, and why?

We spoke with experts to get all the details on REM sleep—plus their top advice on how to get more of it. Keep reading for everything you need to know.

What Is REM Sleep?

“REM sleep” stands for “rapid eye movement sleep.” It’s the fourth stage of your sleep cycle, explains the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Here’s a quick breakdown of each sleep stage:

  • Stage 1: You’re in between being awake and asleep.

  • Stage 2: You’re officially asleep.

  • Stage 3: You’re in the deep (aka slow-wave) sleep stage.

  • Stage 4: You’re in the REM sleep stage.

REM sleep is where most dreaming occurs. “It’s an interesting stage of sleep because in REM, our brain waves look similar to how we’re awake,” says Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, a Chicago-based certified sleep specialist and CEO of The Solution is Sleep. 

Although you toggle between stages 1–4 multiple times throughout the night, you’ll spend more time in REM sleep during the second half of your shut-eye, Dr. Holliday-Bell says. 

Why REM Sleep Is Important

“REM sleep is where consolidation of memories takes place, as well as emotional processing, which we think is one of the functions of dreaming,” Dr. Holliday-Bell says.

Deep sleep, on the other hand, may affect you on a more physical level. “Stage 3 [deep sleep] is when physical restoration happens and you experience tissue repair and bone growth,” says Cali Bahrenfuss, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based certified clinical sleep health expert and owner of Delta Sleep Coaching. 

It’s easy, then, to equate stage 3 with athletic performance—after all, deep sleep helps you recover so that you’re ready for your next run, ride, or lift. But don’t discount the importance of REM sleep for your fitness routine: Even though it’s not the main way your body physically restores, there’s still cell and tissue repair happening in REM, Dr. Holliday-Bell says. 

How Many Hours of REM Sleep Do You Need?

One full cycle of sleep lasts 80–100 minutes, and you’ll go through about four to six cycles per night, according to the NHLBI. Most people will spend 20–25 percent of their total sleep in REM sleep, which equates to roughly two hours, Dr. Holliday-Bell says. But remember: “Everyone is different, and these are just averages,” she says. 

That said, it’s not worth stressing about your particular REM sleep percentage, which may change from night to night. “The body is very intelligent and will shift the amount of time we spend in sleep stages based on our needs,” Dr. Holliday-Bell says. “When you’re deprived of sleep, you’ll have a rebound where you spend more time in REM. The body has a way to recover certain functions more or less in the stages of sleep based on what you need.”

A man stretching his arms up in the air happily while lying in bed after a good night of sleep. Learn how many hours of REM sleep you need in this article.

© Studio Firma / Stocksy United

How Do You Know If You’re Getting Enough REM Sleep?

Unless you’re participating in a medical sleep study, it’s difficult to determine exactly how much REM sleep you’re getting. Many fitness and sleep trackers provide nightly sleep data, including measures of deep and REM sleep, but unfortunately, experts say these trackers typically aren’t very accurate. “I wouldn’t rely on a sleep tracker for the breakdown of sleep stages,” Dr. Holliday-Bell says. “These trackers are getting better, but the technology isn’t there yet, and it’s a rough estimate.” 

You’re better off keeping tabs on what matters most overall, which is getting enough sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults log at least seven hours or more per night. Whether you need seven, eight, or more hours of shut-eye each night is unique to you, but you should aim to get the amount that leaves you feeling rested when you wake up and alert throughout the day (without having to substantially rely on caffeine to stay wide-eyed). By allowing your body to get enough Zzzs, you can cycle through the sleep stages as you need without cutting yourself short on any one stage.

Impacts of Not Getting Enough REM Sleep

Getting enough REM sleep is key to living a healthy life, especially for your memory, focus, and mood. Without enough REM sleep, you may notice that your immune system gets sluggish and that you feel more sensitive to pain, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A lack of REM sleep may also prevent healthy cells and tissue from growing.

Obviously, none of these side effects are ideal for either your fitness goals or your everyday life. That’s why it’s crucial to get plenty of quality Zzzs (and thus, plenty of REM sleep) each night.

Tips for Getting More REM Sleep

Remember, there’s no need to worry about exactly how much REM sleep you’re getting, which can bog you down and distract you from what’s really important: getting enough sleep. Focus on snagging enough Zzzs each night and you’ll likely get the REM sleep your body needs. 

However, some lifestyle habits and medical conditions can negatively impact REM sleep. Here are a few REM sleep tips to keep in mind: 

1. Monitor Caffeine Intake

Dr. Holliday-Bell is a coffee advocate, “but it’s all about drinking responsibility, so I advise limiting the amount you consume to the lowest effective dose,” she says. For example, if one cup gets you energized for your workout, that’s great. But think about if you really need the second, third, or fourth cup before pouring.

Timing-wise, generally aim to stop caffeine intake after noon (or six hours before bed at the latest) in the name of good sleep. That said, you can shift this timing depending on how your body reacts. For example, if you can fall asleep easily even after a cup of joe at 2 PM, then you know your body can handle an afternoon coffee run and still get to bed on time later.

2. Limit Alcohol

Alcohol is a sedative that puts you to sleep, Dr. Holliday-Bell says. However, if you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night and not known why, it might be due to that glass of wine or pint of beer at the end of the night. Alcohol makes sleep more fragmented and delays and decreases REM sleep, which can happen even when you’re sipping moderately, according to research published in Sleep Advances in 2022. Dr. Holliday-Bell advises cutting yourself off three to four hours before bed to promote good sleep. 

3. Investigate Snoring

Sawing logs loudly isn’t just disruptive to your partner or roommate, it’s also a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which your breathing pauses throughout the night, causing micro-awakenings that disrupt sleep. “Obstructive sleep apnea affects your memory, since that’s when a lot of memory consolidation is happening,” Dr. Holliday-Bell says. “As a result, you may also find that you have forgetfulness, trouble learning, and difficulty remembering things.” 

If you experience these cognitive shifts, feel sleepy during the day (despite getting seven-plus hours of rest per night), snore loudly, or your partner notices that you stop breathing during the night, make an appointment with your healthcare provider, who can evaluate you for the condition. 

4. Set a Consistent Sleep Schedule

“Your body thrives on consistency, and that goes for sleep as well,” Bahrenfuss says. Try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. 

But of course, sleep schedules are highly individual. “For people who don’t have a sleep issue, sleeping in two hours extra on the weekend might not be a big deal,” Bahrenfuss explains. “But pay attention if you struggle to fall asleep at night or stay asleep. Those are signs that sleeping in is harming your internal clock.” 

5. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Everyone needs a solid sleep hygiene routine, Bahrenfuss says, which includes habits that set the stage for a restful night of slumber.

Good sleep hygiene may include: 

  • Keeping your room cool, quiet, and dark

  • Turning off electronics 30–60 minutes before bed

  • Doing something that you find relaxing in the evening, such as meditating, reading a book, or doing some light stretching

While good sleep hygiene won’t necessarily increase REM sleep specifically, it can help you get the quantity and quality of sleep that you need, which will help you go through all the sleep stages. 

6. Evaluate Your Exercise Routine

Generally, regular exercise is a fantastic way to level up your sleep. But if you’re experiencing sleep struggles, it’s worth considering the type of workout you’re doing and when you’re doing it. A 2021 meta-analysis published in Sleep Medicine Reviews found that participants who performed high-intensity exercise within four hours of bedtime experienced decreased REM sleep compared to those who didn’t exercise. That said, they also concluded that acute high-intensity exercise performed at least two hours before bedtime shouldn’t disrupt sleep for healthy young and middle-aged adults.

As you’re mapping out your weekly workouts, it may be beneficial to schedule higher-intensity workouts for earlier in the day. If evening is your only available window to exercise, try to wrap up at least a couple of hours before hitting the hay, or consider doing a more moderate- to lower-intensity for the sake of better sleep.

But again, remember that sleep is personal and that this advice may not apply to you. “Ask yourself, ‘Is this harming my sleep?’ and make small modifications if needed,” Bahrenfuss says. But if you find that you can fall asleep just fine after a strenuous nighttime workout and wake up refreshed, feel free to continue doing what you know works for you.

7. Talk to Your Doctor About Any Concerns

If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, or have symptoms of a sleep disorder (such as snoring or feeling super sleepy even after a full night of rest), talk to your healthcare provider. They can look into what might be causing your sleep woes and determine how to help you get the Zzzs you need.

The Takeaway

REM sleep is the fourth stage of sleep, comprising about 20–25 percent of your total sleep time. It’s important for memory consolidation, mood, and immunity, among other functions. 

The best way to get more REM sleep is to practice healthy habits and aim to get at least seven hours of quality sleep per night. Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise for living a healthy life, Dr. Holliday-Bells notes, and “if you’re not investing in sleep, you’re slowing your own progress.”

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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