The goal of the present study was to investigate arousal thresholds (ATs) in tonic and phasic episodes of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and to compare the frequency spectrum of these sub-states of REM to non-REM (NREM) stages of sleep. We found the two REM stages to differ with regard to behavioural responses to external acoustic stimuli. The AT in tonic REM was indifferent from that in sleep stage 2, and ATs in phasic REM were similar to those in slow-wave sleep (stage 4). NREM and REM stages of similar behavioural thresholds were distinctly different with regard to their frequency pattern. These data provide further evidence that REM sleep should not be regarded a uniform state. Regarding electroencephalogram frequency spectra, we found that the two REM stages were more similar to each other than to NREM stages with similar responsivity. Ocular activity such as ponto-geniculo-occipital-like waves and microsaccades are discussed as likely modulators of behavioural responsiveness and cortical processing of auditory information in the two REM sub-states.