The Importance of Rapid-Eye-Movement Sleep

The Importance of Rapid-Eye-Movement Sleep

Millions of people struggle with not getting enough sleep, with half of American adults complaining they feel sleepy during the day at least three days a week. The fact is, adults between 18 and 64 should get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but 35.2% of adults in America get less than seven hours routinely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Rather than just closing your eyes and being unconscious for several hours at night, sleep is something that happens in stages. One important stage in sleeping is the rapid eye movement (REM) phase, and to understand why we need to examine the stages of sleep, what happens during REM sleep, and why you need it.

Residents of the Glendale, Arizona area struggling with getting adequate REM sleep can find help with Drs. Sarah and Vinod Patel, and the skilled medical staff at the Sonoran Sleep Center.

The stages of sleep

Sleeping involves cycles of natural activity, with four stages of sleep broken down into stages of non-REM sleep and REM sleep. Here’s how it works:

Non-REM sleep

There are three phases of non-REM sleep. In the first phase the body slows down and your eyes stay closed; in the second phase your muscles partially contract with periods of relaxation, slower heart rate, and decreased body temperature; and the third phase has you entering deep sleep. 

During non-REM sleep, your body is building bone and muscle, repairing and regenerating tissue, and making your immune system stronger.

REM sleep

In REM sleep, brain activity increases similar to when you are awake, and as a result intense dreams are more common in this period. Simultaneously, your limbs and major muscles don’t move and you experience faster breathing, the aforementioned rapid eye movement, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and for men penile erections. REM sleep often starts about a half hour to an hour after you fall asleep, lasting about 10 minutes the first time and getting longer during each stage.

During a normal sleep cycle, you can experience up to six stages of sleep, dream for up to two hours, and your metabolism slows down about 15%.

What happens during REM sleep

Also referred to as active sleep, desynchronized sleep, paradoxical sleep, rhombencephalic sleep, and dream sleep, this phase is associated with brain development, emotional processing, dreaming, and memory consolidation. In this stage, the rapid eye movement in the name happens, when your brain waves are most active, your heart rate speeds up, and your breathing is more irregular.

Research suggests that your body behaves in a fashion similar to being awake in REM sleep but with the muscles paralyzed as a protective measure to keep your body from acting out and hurting yourself or your partner while sleeping.

Why you need it

The role that REM sleep plays in dreaming, memory, emotional processing, brain development, and preparation for waking up are highly important. In REM sleep you experience more vivid dreams (which can be important in emotional processing), your amygdala is more active which helps process emotions, and you process things you learned and commit some motor skills to memory from the previous day. 

Infants and children need more REM sleep to help their brains develop, as do younger animals with less developed brains.

Not getting enough REM sleep can lead to reduced coping skills (making you less able to respond threats and less able to determine them), increase the risks of migraines, and can raise your chances of becoming obese.

Sleep is a process not entirely understood but certainly valuable to our health. REM sleep helps with many things our bodies need to stay healthy, and getting the proper amount of it can make a world of difference. If you don’t get enough REM sleep, make an appointment with the Drs. Patel and the Sonoran Sleep Center today to get help.

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