During the average eight-hour sleep cycle, the human body spends about 1.5 hours in REM sleep. Rapid Eye Movement, or REM as we know it, is the stage of sleep where the mind is dreaming. This is characterized by the rapid movement of the eyes as different images are formed in the minds of an individual. REM sleep occurs around every 90 minutes during the sleep cycle and is usually interspersed with the other stages of sleep.
What Happens During REM Sleep?
There has been a lot of speculation about the nature of REM sleep and what happens during this phase. The most obvious indicator of REM sleep, the constant eye movement, is something that characterizes this stage. A study published by the UCLA theorized that the brain may be switching to different kinds of imagery during this period resulting in the movement of the eyes. Some researchers also believe that this stage of sleep helps encode memory into our brains and aid in procedural memory.
This stage of sleep is associated with learning new information and maintaining the neural pathways of the brain. It is interesting to note that during this stage, the brain causes all the muscles of the body, except those of the heart and the brain, to be paralyzed. It is understood that this is to help avoid the body from acting out the dreams one is experiencing. It is also noted that the heartbeat becomes varied and rapid depending on what the individual is dreaming about. There is also a notable drop in the body temperature in accordance with the circadian rhythms.
Importance of REM Sleep
The debate rages on as to the importance of REM sleep. Some believe that this stage of sleep is not as important to the human body as the others, while many researchers and scientists believe that it is crucial for the body and brain.
The first thing to be disturbed when your sleep is disturbed is the REM stage of sleep. This stage is usually associated with the feeling of refreshment when one wakes up after a restful night of sleep. During sleep, the brain is essentially cleaning out your brain. It conducts the removal of neurotoxins like beta-amyloid which is associated with Alzheimer’s, among many others. Interrupted REM sleep usually means that the brain has not gotten enough time to clean after itself and has not been able to process the memories created through the day.
It is also posited that those who do not get enough REM sleep during the night are at higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s or even Parkinson’s disease. People who do not get enough REM sleep at night often experience REM rebound. Which means that they tend to catch up on lost sleep through the day and this is often 20% or more than the usual REM sleep they experience every night.
How to Ensure REM Sleep
It is crucial for the human body and mind to get enough sleep through the night. A constant, unbroken sleep cycle is crucial for the human body to feel refreshed and reenergized. To ensure you are getting this here are some things you can try.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Meditate to help calm your thoughts
- Exercise, this will help your body maintain its metabolism and hormones and will aid sleep
- Avoid alcohol or big meals before bed
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