We’ve all heard about rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep. What you might not know is why REM sleep is so important, what your sleep cycle and REM sleep have to do with one another, and how your REM sleep pattern affects the quality of your sleep. If you want high-quality sleep, you might want to understand your sleep cycle and REM sleep.
The Sleep Cycle and REM Sleep
REM sleep is one stage of the sleep cycle. In general, during sleep, several things occur.
- a reduction in voluntary bodily movement
- decreased reaction to external stimuli
- loss of consciousness
- decreased breakdown of cells
- increased synthesis of cells
As you can see, the sleep cycle and REM sleep are important for health. When sleeping, the body rebuilds itself and gets the rest it needs.
There are three basic phases of the sleep cycle, and rapid eye movement sleep falls in the last 3rd of that cycle. This is why it’s so important to sleep through a full sleep period. If your sleep is regularly interrupted, you’ll experience REM sleep pattern disturbance.
Rapid eye movement sleep is the part of the sleep cycle when dreaming occurs. REM sleep is characterized by an active mind with an inactive body. Muscles are unable to move during REM sleep.
The Importance of REM Sleep
There are several theories as to why a healthy REM sleep pattern is so important.
One theory states that REM sleep pattern is so important because dreaming helps the brain to consolidate memories. Dreams are often a collection of recent events. It is thought that this is because REM sleep is when our subconscious makes sense of what has happened and takes the information in to be stored.
Another theory on the importance of the REM sleep pattern states that the rapid eye movement sleep period allows for monoamine shut down, thereby giving receptor sites a chance to rest and re-sensitize. Monoamines are neurotransmitters that regulate different bodily and mental functions including mood.
A third theory states that REM sleep supports brain development because it stimulates the mind and allows for connections to be formed.
While the exact reason for REM sleep isn’t clear, scientists do know that a person with sleep cycle and REM deprivation will “make up” for the missing REM sleep later. This fact alone points to the necessity of REM sleep for a healthy lifestyle.
Improving REM Sleep
Because the REM sleep pattern falls in the last third of the sleep cycle, it is essential that you get a full night’s rest (usually 7 to 8½ hours depending on the individual). If you repeatedly wake too early or experience interrupted sleep, you’ll miss the rapid eye movement sleep portion of your sleep cycle, and this can cause problems over time. Living a healthy, balanced lifestyle that includes adequate sleep time is an integral part of overall health. If you’ve been experiencing sleep difficulty for longer than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor. Persistent sleep problems may be a sign of a more serious health condition.