A Guide to Understanding REM Sleep

September 01, 2020

Rapid Eye Movement

A lot of us know that REM stands for rapid eye movement. Indeed, some may even associate REM with the American rock band and Michael Stipe! However, did you know that REM is an extremely important part of the sleep process? It is in this phase that dreaming occurs and memories are solidified. In fact this phase of sleep is crucial to many of our brain functions.


So What Is REM sleep?

Apart from rapid eye movement, many physiological changes occur during this important phase of sleep. These changes include:-

  • Body temperature reduces to its lowest point

  • Respiration increases

  • Overall increases in blood pressure and heart rate

  • Temporary paralysis of muscles

This phase of sleep usually occurs about 90 minutes after you head off to the land of nod. The first phase normally only lasts 10 minutes and then progressively lengthens. It is thought that the last phase lasts approximately one hour. Furthermore, as we age we experience this phase less and less. It is not clear why, but some speculate that it is due to the connection between REM sleep and learning. As children we have a lot to learn so this seems like a reasonable hypothesis.

So Why Do We Dream In This Phase Of Sleep?

Evidently we can actually dream in all phases of sleep. However, it is generally accepted that our most vivid dreams occur in the rapid eye movement phase of sleep. In fact, tests have been done on people during the different phases of sleep. Volunteers were awakened from all different sleep phases. Indeed, it was in the REM phase of sleep that people could recount their dreams most vividly and emotionally.

Unfortunately the reasons why we dream are not clear and different theories abound. Some believe that it is the brains way of consolidating the events of the day. Whilst others believe that dreams are trying to point us to an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, what seems strange is that some dreams are experienced on a large scale. For example, many people have experienced falling in a dream. If you want to read more on common dreams then you can visit our blog here

Consequences And Causes Of Lack Of REM Sleep

There are a number of possible consequences if you are lacking this phase of sleep. These include :-

  • Migraines

  • Increased risk of obesity

  • Reduced coping skills

Of of the main contributors to an interruption in this phase of sleep is alcohol. Whilst a night cap might send you off to sleep quicker it can cause havoc with your sleep cycles. Some people also suffer from a condition known as RBD. This is a condition were the paralysis that normally occurs during this sleep phase does not. Certain risk factors include being male, over 50 and certain medications.

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