What are the benefits of REM sleep?
Great sleep is all in the timing.
You probaly know that the minimum 7 hours is essential for mind-body health, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for adults between the ages of 18 to 60 years. But have you ever wondered why 7 hours, not 3-4 or 12-14?
Over the course of an average night, you experience between four and five intervals of 90-110min sleep cycles. The sleep cycles themselves are divided into four stages and two phases: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-REM (NREM). Stage 1 to Stage 3 fall under NREM sleep, while Stage 4 comprises REM sleep.
The four stages of sleep
Every stage has a particular function in repairing, restoring and strengthening your body after a long day. Before we get to the benefits, here's a look at the timing:
This stage lasts anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes. Our body slows down during this time, as does our eye movements, brain activity, heart rate, and muscle activity. However, our body is still awake and remains at normal body temperature. If we’re woken up at this phase, we might feel like we haven’t slept at all.
At this stage, the human brain produces slow theta waves at night. Theta waves originate from the frontal lobe of our brain.
Some people might experience a falling sensation in their dreams followed by a muscle contraction in this phase. This phenomenon is medically known as the hypnic myoclonic or a myoclonic jerk. Don't worry—it's perfectly normal!
At this light stage of sleep, our eye movements stop completely while sleeping and the body temperature plummets. Our slowing heart rate and breathing normalizes as we experience slow brain waves.
Some of us might experience a sudden burst of rapid brain waves known as sleep spindles. Sleep spindles contribute to memory amalgamation. But on the whole, the body is all set to enter deep sleep at this non-REM sleep stage and we continue to dream.
The final stage of non-REM sleep cycles is deep sleep. When your brain produces very slow waves known as delta waves, any residual eye movement completely stops and it is very difficult to wake up from this stage of sleep. Non-REM sleep Stage 3 is when our body experiences the deepest sleep it can.
Physical repairs get underway at this non-REM sleep stage. The brain works its way to consolidating even more memories when we dream, that originate from learned experiences. Non-REM sleep stages end with this stage of deep sleep.
As your eyes begin their rapid movement and the brain plunges into activity, our heartbeats and breathing become faster in this phase. We start dreaming at this stage. In fact, dreams are the strongest during REM sleep.
The first REM stage of sleep lasts for an estimated 10 minutes, but the duration keeps increasing as the sleep cycle repeats itself through the night. Interestingly enough, the amount of REM sleep we get is inversely proportional to our age. In other words, it decreases as we grow from infants to teenagers and adults.
Why REM sleep matters
Now that we’ve discussed the anatomy of our sleep cycle, let’s find out why REM sleep is important for our overall health and our immune system.
1. It's a must for your memory.
During REM sleep, the human brain processes emotional memories and vivid dreams. It also stores freshly collected and known knowledge. We sometimes experience these information "hard drives" in our dreams. Lack of REM sleep can lead to long term memory loss by affecting the resilience and proper functioning of neurons.
2. It helps you learn more, recall better, and think clearly.
Quality sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other during waking hours. REM sleep plays a pivotal role in learning, recollection, and cognitive processing of neurons.
3. It boosts your immune system.
It also boosts your immune system by triggering hormone production to maintain a healthy, regulated body temperature.
Not enough sleep or sleep deprivation can trigger many physical ailments. These include obesity, cardiovascular issues, blood sugar problems, poor immunity, sleeping disorders. Lack of sleep, sleep disorders, or poor sleep can also cause drowsiness and mood swings.
4. It makes you stronger
Deep sleep (the last stage of NREM sleep), along with REM sleep, is responsible for repairing and regenerating the cells of the body and helps in treating various health disorders. REM sleep is crucial for bone health and muscle growth, irrespective of age. From Stage 3 through Stage 4, the body repairs and regrows tissues, while also building bone and muscle.
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