How do I get more quality REM sleep?
August 27, 2012 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm not a poor sleeper, but I want to sleep more and especially get more REM sleep. How can I do it?

I'm not especially poorly rested, but I could stand to get more REM sleep, I think. I am 37 years old. I sleep about 6:45 to 7 hours a night.

Sleep is important to me. I'm not one of those who can function without it. I practice good sleep hygiene -- regular exercise, regular bedtimes, no food or drink or exercise too close to bedtime, no caffeine, try to stay away from unnatural light before bed -- I just can't seem to hit that 100% mark.

One thing that concerns me is that I know I'm a light sleeper (I wake up at very light sounds and I never oversleep. In fact, before big events, such as a race, I can wake up 2-3 times, check the clock and go back to sleep and wake up in time.

It was pretty telling for me when I recently got a Zeo Sleep Monitor, and it told me I get little deep sleep. An ex-girlfriend also told me she thought I might have a bit of apnea. I breathe through my mouth as much as I do my nose.

Any suggestions on how to get more REM sleep? The biggest tip I got was to take pituitary caplets, but they're made from cow parts, and I don't want to risk BSE.

I was considering visiting a sleep expert and getting a diagnosis in a sleep lab. Could that help?
posted by Borborygmus to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried 5mg of melatonin?
posted by griphus at 10:33 AM on August 27, 2012

Oh, unless those are the "pituitary caplets" you're speaking of? In which case, at least one company sells animal product-free melatonin.
posted by griphus at 10:34 AM on August 27, 2012

I've been using ear plugs to avoid waking up to unimportant noises. Such as my dogs wandering about on the hardwood. It's been very effective.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I heard on the radio that taking a walk in the evening just before sun set actually helps. The more healthy exposure you get to the sun during the day is linked to getting REM sleep (so this guy on the radio on NPR was saying this morning).

"I can wake up 2-3 times, check the clock and go back to sleep and wake up in time. "

I've always heard that checking the time if you wake up in the middle of the night isn't helpful for some reason...
posted by nickerbocker at 10:39 AM on August 27, 2012

I could have written this - our sleep habits are very similar. I recently moved to an area where I have to walk a lot, and I have found that the moderate exercise of walking about a mile to two miles a day really helps me, in addition to my usual cardio and weight training. Also, I keep a very close eye on my diet. Even though I eat well, certain foods can cause me to have trouble sleeping. Carbs cause me the most trouble, but there may be something else that's could be giving you a hassle.
posted by backwards compatible at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2012

Having two kids and a wife that are all light sleepers, I can attest that a white noise machine works wonders for our differing schedules.

Voices in the room will still wake my wife, but she doesn't hear banging around or me wandering through the house at 2:00 AM. My kids sleep straight through the night, with very rare occasions where they are wandering through the house.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:42 AM on August 27, 2012

I sleep much better when I wear a Breathe Right strip on my nose. (The ugly beige kind adheres much better than the clear.) However, if you suspect actual apnea, push your doctor for a sleep test (many are now done at home with portable machines). If you wake up hot and sweaty even if your room is cool, or if you wake up with a dry mouth, or always have to pee at night even if you don't drink much liquid - those are also signs of apnea.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:50 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

>I breathe through my mouth as much as I do my nose.

That's not apnea. Apnea is when you stop breathing in your sleep. Sometimes your bedmate will hear quiet for a few seconds then a deep gasp as you inhale. If this is a pattern then you should call your doctor and get a referral to a sleep center. If you're not sure, you can record the sounds you make sleeping and give your doctor the mp3.

As for light sleeping, I've found melatonin and/or a few capsules of Tryptophan (Vitamin Shoppe has their own brand) works wonders. Be careful, too much might mean morning or afternoon grogginess.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:21 AM on August 27, 2012

I just started taking melatonin last week and it's made a big difference for me. I think my pills are 5mg but I try to break them into smaller bits and take 1/3 to a 1/2 a pill. It keeps me from waking up as easily in the night, gets me back to sleep faster, and doesn't make me foggy in the morning. Also, I didn't look into whether it's made from cow bits but I can say that so far, I don't have mad cow. Yay, me!
posted by adorap0621 at 11:41 AM on August 27, 2012

Put your alarm clock out of sight. You feed your anxiety by checking your clock multiple times a night, which will keep you from getting that deep sleep you want. Once you start trusting that you're not going to oversleep and that your alarm clock will do its job properly, you will eventually start to sleep much better during the morning hours.
posted by nikkorizz at 12:11 PM on August 27, 2012

Either in addition to or instead of melatonin, you might try taling co-q-10 in the morning. Here is why. Plus, people tend to be deficient in it as they get older.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:36 PM on August 27, 2012

Are you sure you're getting enough sleep? Some (a lot?) people need 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep per night. Try getting eight hours per night for a couple of weeks and see if it makes a difference.
posted by cnc at 3:25 PM on August 27, 2012

Put your alarm clock out of sight. You feed your anxiety by checking your clock multiple times a night, which will keep you from getting that deep sleep you want. Once you start trusting that you're not going to oversleep and that your alarm clock will do its job properly, you will eventually start to sleep much better during the morning hours.

If you need an alarm clock, you aren't getting enough sleep.
posted by gjc at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2012

I just wanted to add to the melatonin chorus. I've always been a very light sleeper, and a new noisy apartment complex brought things to a head. I tried the 1 mg tablets, and they've worked wonders in keeping me asleep through the night. You don't feel drugged out from them, just tired like after a day spent outside.
posted by Balna Watya at 4:58 PM on August 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks guys -- some useful information here. I'm thinking about trying melatonin tonight. I have an old bottle of the stuff, I used very little. I tend to use it only when I travel, to reset my clock. I'm worried about chemical dependence. I may try Co-q-10 though. That's a good idea, Michelle. Because it isn't directly related to sleep, I think there might be less dependency with that.

The BSE worry isn't from melatonin. I've read on other boards to try dried whole pituitary tablets, which are derived from cows.

I've considered hiding the alarm clock. I suppose there is some base anxiety there. I don't need it to wake up. I usually wake up 5 minutes before it sounds. It doesn't help that I start work shortly after I wake at 6 am. I can't afford to be late.

I'd love to get 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep cnc, but I really can't. It's not that I'm too busy. I wake up at 6 am, and that's it. Time to get the day started, no sense in laying in bed. I've only managed it when I've tired myself out the day before, usually because for some reason I didn't get enough sleep the night before.

DD ape - right, that's apnea. My ex did think I had a light case, sometimes I stopped breathing and abruptly started again.

Rosie, yes, I've experimented with Breathe Right strips and another item called a Nozovent. They do help! I didn't know those were signs of apnea... Of those, I usually only experience dry mouth, but I thought it might be because my mouth is open when I sleep.

I've experimented with white noise machines and ear plugs too. They are helpful. I actually sold the white noise machine after I moved from the city to the suburbs. I needed it to deal with neighbors. I've started using the earplugs again after noticing that I don't sleep as well when I have them out. I blame the crickets. I think the noise keeps my brain at some base level of activity.

Funny, backwards compatible!

Some options here, I guess they're worth experimenting with... Thank you all. I'm still debating whether to spring for a sleep study.
posted by Borborygmus at 5:55 PM on August 27, 2012

This is going to sound totally random and weird, and it is. But a few months ago, I tried going gluten free (no wheat, barley, or hops).

After the first full day gluten free, I slept like a rock. Having always been a very restless sleeper, I now find that life gluten free means a solid, full night's sleep.

I have no idea why, or whether or not it would work for you. But it's pretty easy to avoid the glutens for 24-48 hours, maybe it's worth a shot.
posted by ErikaB at 6:37 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love sleep.

Cheap supplements to try: Melatonin, ZMA (don't mix with diary).

Cheap environmental modifications: black out blinds, tape up blinking lights, make sure there's good ventilation, ear plugs, experiment with sleep playlists.

All else fails, get your sleep apnea checked out, new mattress, pillows, linens (probably cheaper than a visit to a sleep clinic).
posted by dirtyid at 9:52 PM on August 27, 2012

I tried going gluten free (no wheat, barley, or hops)

Hops don't contain gluten. Hop tea is a common herbal remedy for insomnia.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:31 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are being offered a sleep test, I'd take it if I were you. It might turn up something that can be easily corrected and will help you get better sleep.

Re hiding the alarm clock: I think it's worth a try. The best way to do it, IME, is: Start on a Friday night and be sure you are in bed early enough so that you can get eight hours sleep and still wake up at a reasonable hour (for instance, midnight if your target time is 8 AM). Then just let yourself sleep until you wake up. Be warned that you may be paying back a sleep debt and thus will sleep in at first - this is why you want to start on a Friday night. Then, if possible, let your employer know you will be a little late on Monday morning or somehow get the morning off (I know this isn't always possible) and see how early you get up on Monday. If, after going to bed early enough to get eight hours sleep, you are still waking up late, THEN you might have to go back to the alarm clock.

It might also help to get a non-intrusive alarm clock. I use a sunrise alarm clock, because the mere idea that I'm going to be jolted out of my sleep by noise is enough to ruin my early morning. A sunrise or Zen alarm clock (with soft chimes) might help you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:05 AM on August 29, 2012

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