What is REM Sleep and Why it’s Important
What Is REM Sleep – If you follow sleep trends at all, you’ve probably heard the term REM sleep thrown around a lot. It’s associated with a ton of articles on cognitive function and productivity at the workplace. That being said, it’s not the easiest concept to understand in the world. Isn’t sleep just… sleep? Turns out, no. Sleep is as varied and interesting as our waking hours. So what is REM total sleep time (also known as paradoxical sleep) and how do I get it? We’ve got you covered on what you need to know to make sure you’re refreshed and ready to face the day — with plenty of REM sleep.
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What is REM Sleep? The Final and Deepest Stage of sleep Where Dreams Occur
What Is REM Sleep – Sleep is divided into four stages. As we lay down and sleep, we progress gradually from a state of near-consciousness to a place of deepest sleep. In stages one and two, our senses are gradually turned off (or turned inward) so that noise and light have less of an effect on our sleep patterns. This is when sleep spindles, brain activity, shows mild spikes. In stage three we reach deep sleep, where the body and brain’s activities drop to their lowest point. Melatonin is released. At this point, blood is redirected from the brain to the muscles. This is all pre-dreams.
But something different happens in the fourth and final stage of sleep. Our body temperature decreases, and our brain waves become active. This is known as REM, an acronym for the term rapid eye movement REM sleep, which activates our brains — even more so than when we are conscious. This is also known as paradoxical sleep. This is the stage when the majority of our dreaming takes place. Vivid dreams aren’t the only important part of REM sleep though, it’s when a ton of our processing happens. Dreams are a good indicator that cognitive function is happening. After, your body experiences REM rebound and the cycle continues. This is a crucial part of brain health and productivity. When asking what is REM sleep, it’s important to understand WHY it’s important for not just our dreaming, but our waking hours too.
Why is REM Sleep So Important?
Besides being an extremely active time for our brains, REM sleep is the stage when our brains process and synthesize memories and emotions. It’s for dreaming. It’s when our brain waves are highly active. This is a crucial part of how we learn, and a big idea when it comes to higher-level thoughts. If we shortchange our REM stage of sleep, not only do we not have dreams, we risk having slower cognitive functions and worse social processing. That means that you’re going to have less ability to understand new tasks at work the next day, and you might not be able to understand or empathize with coworkers and family the way you would if you had a good night’s sleep. It’s not just about dreaming, its about brain health. REM sleep has been linked with the functions of the brain stem. That is why these disorders so often can be diagnosed as behavior disorder, or RBD (REM behavior disorder). This idea is why it’s so crucial for understanding what is REM sleep: it has real-world implications for you and your brain.
That’s not the only problem, studies have shown that problems with long-term memory consolidation and concentration can also stem from not getting enough REM sleep. It can also be linked to behavior disorder. A 2008 sleep poll found that people who slept less than six hours per night were twice as likely to report difficulty concentrating as those who got a full night’s sleep and were able to keep dreaming.
Not Getting Enough REM Sleep is a Vicious Cycle That Leads to Big Problems
So here’s why you not getting enough sleep is really bad news: when you cut back on sleep, your REM cycle is the first thing to suffer. There are a couple of reasons for this, but here is the main idea to get ahold of. When you can’t fall asleep at a normal time (or suffer from sleep apnea or other sleep disorders), your brain is starved for sleep (this state is known as sleep deprivation), your body opts for the other, more physical parts of sleep — NREM. This can lead to a restless sleep and a lot of moving around as your body attempts to adapt.
That light sleep, REM sleep deprivation (when you stay in NREM and never reach REM sleep) is terrible for all ages of sleeper. In infants, this can increase the risk for sids. It is something to monitor in children — often children with autism have reported sleep disorders that prevent REM cycle sleep. One study showed between 40-80% of autistic children experienced sleep disorders.
In adults, it is less severe, but still damaging. Your body and brain remain in the first three stages of sleep, (the NREM sleep stages) opting for physical regeneration, instead of giving your brain activity and cognitive functions the attention they need and deserve. There is some evidence to support that long-term effects can lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s (more on that later). It also can have other physical effects like raised blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease and poor heart rate. It’s a huge part of why knowing what is REM sleep and acting on that knowledge can keep you from falling into these cycles — it’s a huge part of your overall health.
Another problem that can hamper REM sleep is falling asleep late at night. This is because late night sleep cycles usually have longer REM periods than cycles earlier in the evening. This has to do with the body’s natural circadian rhythms, and with the natural processes attached to light sensitivity. Waking up in the middle of your REM cycle can be frightening, some have even reported temporary paralysis. That means you’re only sleeping through one or two cycles instead of three and you have less time for REM sleep.
How Shortchanging Your REM Sleep Affects Your Job Performance
When you don’t get enough REM sleep, your concentration goes to hell in a handbasket. That means focusing on a single task can be extra difficult, and multitasking (a big component of any job) is almost impossible. Since your brain is the seat of all verbal and non-verbal communication, it can also be a huge detriment to your work relationships too, making it harder to pick up on nuances or negotiate transactions correctly.
Not only that, your decision making can really suffer. A recent study published in the US National Library of Medicine showed that participants who didn’t get enough sleep made much poorer decisions than those who did. They went as far as to compare people with poor sleep schedules to those who had severe cognitive disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or Lewy Body Dementia.
Now that you know what is REM sleep, you can see how important it is. Measuring your REM cycle is like monitoring your heart rate, it’s a good judge of your overall health. It’s so important, Not just for your physical wellbeing and relationships, but also for your brain health. Your brain is the most important muscle in your body and you need to treat it right so that you can live a full and happy life.
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