What is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep?
Rapid eye movement sleep, also known as REM sleep is the last stage of the sleep cycle. It is probably the most talked about sleep stage because of its association with dreaming. Below are some of the characteristics of the REM sleep stage:
- Irregular, shallow and more rapid breathing
- Heart rate increases
- Intense brain activity
- Paralysis of large voluntary muscles of the body
- Rapid movement of the eyes while closed
- Intense dreams
- Legs, face and finger twitching
REM sleep is also called paradoxical sleep due to the fact that the muscles are paralyzed but the brain wave activity is high.
A typical sleeper will cycle through the five stages of sleep several times in one night. The REM stage increases in duration with each cycle. For example, during the first sleep cycle, rapid eye movement sleep may only last about 10 minutes, but in the last cycle it could last as long as an hour and a half. As for dreams, they can occur at any point in the sleep cycle, but the vivid and memorable ones almost always happen during REM sleep.
The Importance of Paradoxical Sleep
Paradoxical sleep has been the subject of much scientific research, resulting in many theories.
While scientists agree on the necessity of getting a good night's sleep every night, some sleep researchers believe that REM sleep in particular is also essential for memory. There is a theory that memories are consolidated during this stage and that memory is compromised if REM sleep is regularly interrupted.
Another theory is that REM sleep plays a role in the health of the nervous system, especially in babies since babies have significantly longer periods of rapid eye movement sleep than adults.
Other theories link REM sleep to creativity, mood and behavior.
Since the need for REM sleep and dreaming is still unclear, scientists will continue to research the sleep stages, paving the way for even more theories.