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What is REM-sleep and why does it matter for Lucid Dreaming?

A closed eyelid in REM sleep

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is an essential stage of a healthy sleep cycle and one that is particularly important for lucid dreamers.

It’s during REM sleep that the most vivid, narrative-like dreams occur – a phenomenon that lucid dreamers harness to consciously engage with their dreamscapes.

This article explains this complex, intriguing sleep stage, exploring not only its basic features but also its relevance to lucid dreaming, benefits, potential sleep disorders associated, techniques to enhance REM sleep, and more.

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The Sleep Cycle

Most adults experience four or five complete sleep cycles in a single night.

The different sleep stages

Sleep stageDescription
Wakefulness (W)The individual is awake and alert, with eye movement and active brain activity.
N1Light sleep, characterized by theta brain waves. Easily awakened, and muscle activity decreases.
N2A deeper sleep stage featuring sleep spindles and K-complexes on the EEG. Heart rate and body temperature decrease.
N3Deep or slow-wave sleep with delta waves on EEG. This is the restorative stage of sleep, and it’s harder to wake from.
REM-sleepDreaming occurs during REM sleep. It’s characterized by rapid eye movements, increased brain activity, muscle atonia (paralysis), and vivid dreams.
The different sleep stages in a sleep cycle

REM sleep plays a vital role in this cycle. It’s the stage responsible for vivid, narrative-like dreams, making it a critical aspect for those interested in lucid dreaming.

The first episode of REM sleep typically occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and might last as little as 10 minutes. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase in length, with final REM periods lasting up to an hour.

REM-sleep: More frequent later in the sleep cycle

As clearly shown in hypnograms (like the example one below) the frequency and length of the REM stage is highest 4-6 hours into the sleep cycle:

An example sleep hypnogram, depicting the ideal time for lucid dreaming

Our brains are highly active during REM sleep, almost to the same extent as when we’re awake.

A side by side view of PET brain scans during REM sleep and Non-REM sleep. Showing heightened brain activity while in REM.
Pictured: A PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan showing the heightened brain activity while in the REM sleep-stage.

Interestingly, although eyes are closed, they move rapidly in various directions – hence the name ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ sleep. These eye movements are associated with dream imagery, making REM sleep a fascinating field of study for understanding not just dreams, but also the subconscious mind.

In the succeeding sections, we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of REM sleep, the science of lucid dreaming, and how understanding REM sleep can possibly enhance your lucid dreaming experiences.

Characteristics of REM-Sleep

Some of the defining characteristics of REM sleep include rapid eye movement, muscle atonia (paralysis), and high brain activity. The chief characteristic, rapid eye movement, is what gives this sleep stage its name. When we are in REM sleep, though our bodies are effectively paralyzed, our eyes move quickly and unpredictably in a variety of directions.

This rapid eye movement is thought to be associated with the visual or sensory experiences we have during dreams, hence the importance of REM sleep in lucid dreaming experiences.

Photograph of an eye, signifying rapid eye movement

Lastly, brain activity during REM sleep is usually quite high. When we are in REM sleep, most of our dreaming happens due to our brain being as active as when we are awake. When this considerable brain activity is paired with the atonia, it creates a fascinating contrast, one where our body is almost entirely at rest, yet our mind is astoundingly active.

Lucid dreaming and REM-sleep

The connection between REM-sleep and Lucid Dreaming

Most lucid dreams occur during the REM stage of the sleep cycle2, fitting in with the high brain activity and vivid narratives seen in REM sleep.

When people are lucid dreaming, they take advantage of these elements offered by REM sleep for a more satisfying dreaming experience, making an understanding of REM sleep essential for lucid dreamers or those looking to practice it.

REM Sleep Disorders

Just like with other aspects of sleep, various disorders can affect REM sleep.

These disorders highlight the importance of healthy REM sleep not just for lucid dreamers but for everyone. They can significantly affect sleep quality and the ability to perform daily activities.

Techniques to Enhance REM Sleep

Lifestyle choices

A woman doing healthy lifestyle choices in the sunlight

Additionally, getting exposure to natural light during the day can help regulate one’s internal sleep-wake cycle, potentially impacting REM sleep.

Mind-body practices

A man doing relaxation techniques in nature


Diet may influence sleep patterns too, including REM. Eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet can support overall sleep health.

A healthy and mixed plate of food
  • Milk – Whole Milk is an amazing source of tryptophan.
  • Turkey and Chicken – Turkey, Chicken and other types of meat are all good sources of tryptophan.
  • Oats – Prepared oatmeal is a healthy source of tryptophan.


There are also various supplements and substances that some people use to support REM sleep.

A pill bottle containing supplements that may improve healthy sleep
  • Melatonin – A popular over-the-counter remedy that claims to improve sleep quality by helping individuals fall asleep faster and experience more REM sleep.
  • Valerian root – A herbal supplement known for its potential to promote relaxation and alleviate mild insomnia.
  • Magnesium – A dietary mineral often used as a supplement to support better sleep quality. It claims to help with relaxation and muscle function.
  • Vitamin B6 – A vitamin that potentially enhances the duration and depth of REM sleep, leading to more restful and dream-rich sleep experiences.

It’s recommended to consult with a medical professional before starting any routine involving these, as reactions can vary individually.

Common questions about REM-sleep

Before we conclude, let’s recap some of the most common questions about this sleep stage, and its relation to dreaming:

What does REM stand for?

The “REM” in REM sleep stands for “Rapid Eye Movement”. The name derives from a phenomenon that occurs during the sleep stage, where the eyes rapidly move around behind closed eyelids

When does REM sleep occur?

REM sleep occurs throughout the entire sleep cycle, but more frequently and for longer periods towards the very end of your sleep.

What does REM have to do with dreaming?

It is during REM sleep that the most vivid and memorable dreams occur. Some claim that the rapid movement of the eyes that signify this stage are a reflection of what is happening in the dream

How much of our sleep is REM-sleep?

REM sleep typically accounts for 20-25% of our sleep, although this can vary due to factors such as diet, health and stress levels.

How long does REM sleep last for?

The first episode typically occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and might last as little as 10 minutes. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase in length, with final REM periods lasting up to an hour.


A woman sleeping and possibly dreaming lucidly

Remember, optimizing the quality of your REM sleep not only improves your sleep health overall but also expands the length and intensity of your dream world.

Sources and additional reading


  1. Peever, John, and Patrick M. Fuller. “The biology of REM sleep.” Current biology 27.22 (2017): R1237-R1248. ↩︎
  2. LaBerge, Stephen, Lynne Levitan, and William C. Dement. “Lucid dreaming: Physiological correlates of consciousness during REM sleep.” The journal of mind and behavior (1986): 251-258. ↩︎
  3. Neuendorf, Rachel, et al. “The effects of mind-body interventions on sleep quality: a systematic review.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2015 (2015). ↩︎
  4. Park, Soon-Yeob, et al. “The effects of alcohol on quality of sleep.” Korean journal of family medicine 36.6 (2015): 294. ↩︎
  5. Silber, B. Y., and J. A. J. Schmitt. “Effects of tryptophan loading on human cognition, mood, and sleep.” Neuroscience & biobehavioral reviews 34.3 (2010): 387-407. ↩︎

First time hearing about
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My name is Lucy, I’ve been a lucid dreamer since 2001. It all started when one of my friends told me about her lucid dream experiences.

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