What Happens During REM Sleep
During the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, you dream, you experience an increased heart rate and breathing and your muscles are immobile. Also, true to the name, your eyes move rapidly. Your brain is highly active and resembles your waking state most closely.
Why REM Sleep is Important
This stage stimulates the areas of the brain that are responsible for learning. Infants and children spend more of the night experiencing REM sleep than adults; this may be the reason why. Studies have linked REM sleep with the ability to learn certain mental skills. When deprived of REM sleep individuals could not recall skills they were previously taught, while those who got REM sleep could. Some believe the brain is organizing what it has learned while awake during this stage of sleep and committing these new ideas to long-term memory.
The brain activity that occurs during this stage can also improve immune system function, so if you notice you often get sick when you're sleep deprived, this may be why.
Importance of deep sleep and REM sleep
Each stage of sleep offers benefits to the sleeper. However, deep sleep is perhaps the most vital stage. It is the first stage that the brain attempts to recover when sleep deprived, and the strongest effects of sleep deprivation are from inadequate deep sleep. What might disrupt deep sleep? If you are caring for someone around the clock, whether it is a small infant or an elderly relative with a serious illness, you might need to attend to them suddenly in the middle of the night. Loud noise outside or inside the home might wake you. If you work the night shift, sleeping during the day may be difficult, due to light and excess noise during the day. Substances like alcohol and nicotine also disrupt deep sleep.
Maximize your deep sleep. Make sure your sleep environment is as comfortable as possible and minimize outside noise. If you are being awakened as a caregiver, make sure that you get some time of uninterrupted sleep, especially if you have had some unusually disruptive nights. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
REM sleep, or dream sleep, is essential to our minds for processing and consolidating emotions, memories and stress. It is also thought to be vital to learning, stimulating the brain regions used in learning and developing new skills. Most of dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although it can happen during other sleep stages as well. There are different theories as to why you dream. Freud thought that dreams were the processing of unconscious desires. Today, researchers wonder if it may be the brain's way of processing random fragments of information received during the day. Much of dreaming is still a mystery. If REM sleep is disrupted one night, your body will go through more REM the next to catch up on this sleep stage.
Getting more REM sleep
Studies have shown that better REM sleep helps boost your mood during the day. How can you get more REM sleep? One simple way is to try to sleep a little more in the morning. As your sleep cycles through the night, it starts with longer periods of deep sleep. By the morning, the REM sleep stage is longer. Try sleeping an extra half hour to hour and see if your mood improves.
Improving your overall sleep will also increase your REM sleep. If your body is deprived of deep sleep, it will try to make that up first- at the expense of REM sleep.