by Virginia Hopkins
Q: I’ve been reading that REM sleep helps with memory and erases stress from that day. As a college student I really need a good memory and have a lot of stress, but there’s not much info about what increases or decreases REM sleep. Do you have any suggestions?
A: REM sleep, a form of deep sleep, is indeed one of the great stress healers and brain balms. In fact, recent sleep research suggests that “fried” feeling after an all-nighter is literally caused by agitated neurons in the brain that didn’t get their sleep.
Getting enough REM sleep is mostly a matter of avoiding what blocks it, and the biggest REM blockers are drugs. Almost any drug that affects the brain will decrease REM sleep, including anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, sleeping pills, allergy pills, pain killers, beta-blockers (especially propanolol), all stimulants (including caffeine), marijuana and alcohol.
Assuming that you are a young college student, you should have no problem getting enough REM sleep if you avoid habitual drug use. REM sleep naturally decreases as we get older. The good news is that as we age we don’t seem to need as much REM sleep to stay healthy.
Melatonin, also called the sleep hormone, is naturally secreted by the brain in response to darkness. Melatonin deficiency can decrease REM sleep, and taking a melatonin supplement can increase it. This article, Melatonin Supplement Recommendations has details.
Of course it’s preferable to use non-drug and non-supplement methods for improving sleep. Here’s an article, How to Sleep Better by Dr. John Lee that has many helpful suggestions.