Today, we look at if it’s possible to get too much REM sleep.
It is certainly possible to get too little. Some studies indicate that animals that do not get any REM sleep start to slowly die.
And figuring out if people can get too much REM sleep is complicated by how it is not entirely clear what REM sleep does.
REM sleep occurs most in children and least in the elderly. It declines steadily as people age. It never disappears totally, however. Most REM sleep episodes occur towards morning.
REM sleep may be important to store memories and discard unimportant ones. It likely helps brain development in the young. In adults, it may be linked to creativity and problem solving. The brain becomes active as it works out information. And it can do so without being interrupted by the conscious, waking mind. REM sleep, in short, probably helps the brain run more smoothly and more effectively.
Problems with Too Much REM Sleep
The main problem that too much REM sleep would cause in most people would be the possibility of waking up more often and ending up not as rested. Since REM sleep is quite similar in a lot of ways to waking brain activity, and can cause awakening by prompting the muscles to flex or jerk, excessive REM sleep can leave you feeling tired and depressed.
Some people have REM sleep disorders that cause them to move with their dreams. Usually the body is paralyzed so your muscles don’t actually thrash about as you dream about swimming. Or dancing. Or running. Or anything.
If this paralysis stops working properly, a person will actually move in sync with dream activities, possibly waking themselves, hurting themselves by hitting against walls or falling out of bed, or accidentally striking someone sleeping beside them. There is no cure for this kind of disorder. Most just have to wait for it to pass, and pad the area around their beds to prevent injury.
The Results of Too Much REM Sleep
Too much REM sleep might cause you to wake up several times a night, leading to disrupted rest and feelings of tiredness or lack of energy the next day.
If you get too much sleep, the first thing you’ll notice is that you’ll have a headache for much of the day. It’s especially bad in the morning after you get up. This is because the neurotransmitters in your brain are thrown out of balance by oversleeping.
Getting too much sleep in general is also linked to higher chances of heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity.
It’s not certain if sleeping too much causes these problems or if having an illness developing at a low level causes excessive sleep. If you find yourself sleeping more than normal, you might want to get a physical exam from a qualified physician.