You’ve probably heard of the term REM Sleep in conversation or maybe you kind of understand what it means. But, judging by our generation’s sleeping habits and perpetual sleep deprivation, it’s clear most people have no clue why it’s so important.
Read on to understand why it is so crucial to your well-being and what you can do to make sure you get it!
Nighttime sleep is a period of memory consolidation
When you fall asleep your brain stays hard at work categorizing the experiences of your day and priming your memory. It even releases hormones that help regulate energy, mood, and mental acuity. In order for the brain to do all this work in an effective manner, it needs at least 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to mood swings, trouble concentrating, lethargy, and overall loss of productivity.
To fully comprehend the importance of sleep – specifically REM sleep – we need to understand how sleep functions.
Sleep and the four-stage cycle
Through the night, we experience a four-stage sleep cycle, with each of these stages repeating three to four times, for up to 90 minutes each.
When you move across stages 1 and 2, you disconnect from the outside world and doze off into what is called ‘deep sleep’. This is stage 3. In deep sleep, the body’s activity drops to its lowest point as blood is instructed to move away from the brain to the muscles.
After stage 3, you enter stage 4 – the hugely important rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As the name suggests, this stage is characterized by the rapid movement of the eyes – this is when you know someone is dreaming. In this stage, our brains are actively working, even more so than when we are awake. No joke!
During stages 3 and 4 – deep and REM sleep – the brain performs important restorative functions. During deep sleep, glucose metabolism increases in the brain, providing support for both short-term and long-term memory and learning in general. During this stage, our pituitary gland secretes hormones like the human growth hormone (HGH) that helps our body grow and develop. Deep sleep is also important for energy restoration, cell regeneration, increasing blood supply to muscles, promoting repair and growth of tissues and bones, and strengthening the immune system.
When your body enters REM sleep, the brain functions to support vital learning and higher-level cognitive processes. This is when the brain processes and synthesizes memories and emotions, which is why a lack of REM sleep results in slower cognitive and social processing, issues with memory, and problems with concentration.
When you suffer from REM sleep deficiency, your performance and productivity inevitably take a hit. You struggle to perform complex tasks, conduct social interactions, and grasp difficult concepts.
So, when deprived of sufficient sleeping time, your brain chooses lighter sleep. And when you only sleep through one or two cycles, instead of three or four, your REM sleep is disproportionately affected because our later sleep cycles tend to have longer periods of REM sleep.
What is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder?
This is a condition characterized by sudden movements of the body and vocalizations as a person experiences vivid dreams during stage 4 of the sleep cycle. During normal REM sleep, the body undergoes temporary muscle paralysis while the brain exhibits activity similar to when we are awake. People who suffer from REM Sleep Behavior Disorder do not experience normal muscle paralysis, making them act out as they dream.
This can lead to distressing you or your sleeping partner and potentially even injuring them or yourself! Treating REM Sleep Behavior Disorder does not mean actively suppressing stage 4. Instead, you can manage this condition by:
The world today is a fast-paced place, full of distractions that insist on your attention every second of every day. You just can’t put your phone down. Ping! There goes your phone again…