While you're fast asleep at night, your brain is working furiously to process information and update your memory. This phenomenon occurs during the rapid eye movement -- or REM -- phase of sleep. REM sleep happens every 60 to 90 minutes during sleep and lasts only about five minutes. As you continue sleeping, the length of time between REM cycles and the length of the actual REM cycle grows. REM is crucial to memory, relaxation and energy stores, so it's important to structure your bedtime routine for longer, better-quality REM cycles.
Plan a bedtime routine that you follow every night to prepare both your mind and body for bed. The first REM cycle begins about 90 minutes from the time you fall asleep, which could be delayed if you're not properly ready for bed. A sleep routine should include activities that help you relax, such as reading a book, taking a bath or meditation. Avoid video screens for 30 to 60 minutes before bed, because the transmitted light can keep your brain active even after you turn out the lights.
Arrange your home and your schedule to limit night waking. While some night waking, such as attending to a baby, is unavoidable, waking because of a cell phone alert, excessive noise or bright lights can be remedied. Night waking can interrupt your REM cycle so you don't get the rejuvenating effects of a proper night's sleep.
Stop behaviors that are counterproductive to a good night's sleep. Drinking caffeine less than four hours or eating less than two to three hours before bed can actually generate energy and make it difficult for you to fall asleep and affect your REM sleep cycle.
Sleep an extra hour. Because REM cycles occur every 60 to 90 minutes, tacking an extra 60 to 90 minutes onto your sleep time can ensure that you get at least one more REM sleep cycle than you currently experience now. A healthy adult needs anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Go to bed earlier or sleep an hour longer in the morning to make your sleep more restorative and beneficial.
Indulge in a nap during the day. So long as a nap lasts from 60 to 90 minutes, you'll achieve a cycle of REM sleep during the short time. Imagine your sleep as a bank account; missing out on the optimum amount of sleep each night can put you into debt. Taking naps during the day can help you repay that debt to get back on track and continue to enjoy the benefits of REM sleep.