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The Importance of REM Sleep

REM cycles are fundamental to achieving healthy and refreshing sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement, which is apparent by the eyes tendency to rapidly move in multiple directions during this important stage of sleep. During REM sleep, our brains are stimulated, especially in the areas of learning and making/retaining memories.

Each time we drift off to sleep, our body and brains take a journey thru several stages of sleep. REM sleep is considered the 5th stage of sleep.

Stages of Sleep:

Stage One: Within the time of dozing off, your brain will start to produce theta and alpha waves, causing your eye movements to slow down. This initiation to sleep is comparatively brief, typically lasting up to seven minutes. At this stage, you’re in a light sleep, which means that you’re somewhat alert and can be woken easily. It’s during this stage of slumber that people often indulge in a brief nap. This stage is considered a NREM (Non-REM) sleep.

Stage Two: During this stage, you are still in a very light sleep, and the brain produces sudden increases in sleep spindles, which are a type of brainwave frequencies. Then, brainwaves begin to slow down. If you are trying to go for a  “power nap” you would want to wake up after this stage. During this NREM stage your heartbeat and breathing will slow down as your muscles relax.

Stage Three: This stage is when you are entering deep sleep, as the brain begins to produce slower delta waves. This is when your eye movement and muscle activity begins to stop. At this point, it is harder for you to be awakened,  because your body becomes less responsive to outside stimuli. In this NREM stage your breathing and heartbeat continue to slow and your body temperature will also drop.

Stage Four: The brain will produce even more delta waves and you move into an even deeper type of sleep. At this stage, you will become more restorative. It’s most difficult to wake up during this period. This is when the body will start to repair muscle and tissue, as well as stimulate growth and development, boosting immune functions, and builds up energy for the next day.

Stage Five*: This stage (which is often grouped with stage 4*) is known as REM sleep, which usually takes on average 90 minutes to achieve, after you initially fall asleep. Your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing will rise as you are now in the dreaming stage of sleep. During this REM stage, your arms and legs will become temporarily paralyzed to keep you from physically acting out your dreams.

So, how do we know we are getting to the most out of our sleep cycle? For some, there are obvious signs in our daily life and health that indicate we may not be getting the quality of sleep that our bodies need.

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Signs that Indicate Possible Sleep Disorders:

  • Depression
  • Focus and memory are a lot weaker
  • Weight gain
  • Reluctant to wake up
  • Caffeine addiction
  • Feel moody
  • Acne breakouts
  • Droopy eyes
  • Junk food cravings

Insomnia is also considered a sleep disorder. Individuals that have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep may be suffering from insomnia. Additional information regarding insomnia, can be found in the CEUfast course “Insomnia: Inability to Sleep”. 

If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned sleep disorders, please consult your doctor for guidance. Additionally, taking a deep look at your quality of sleep may also aid in improving your health and mental stability.

Tips on getting better sleep:

  • Avoid alcohol. Consuming an alcoholic beverage before bed keeps sleepers in the lighter phases of rest.
  • Try to avoid antidepressants. Some antidepressants can block REM sleep, (always check with your doctor before discontinuing prescribed medication).
  • Avoid smoking. Smokers have a lower REM sleep rate and often wake up due to nicotine withdrawal after 3 to 4 hours of sleep.
  • Practice a fixed bedtime and wake up schedule. If you need to wake up at 6:30 am., try starting to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. Follow the routine, and see if your sleep is getting better.
  • Use your sleep schedule as an alarm clock. Since sleep cycles can last for 90 minutes, set your alarm clock to wake you up after your last completed cycle. For instance, if you go to bed at 10:00 p.m. and need to wake up at 6:00 a.m., set your alarm clock to 5:30 a.m. instead to compensate for 90-minute sleep cycle intervals.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine before going to bed. Pre-sleep brain stimulation can cause insomnia.

Besides feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep, our bodies require quality sleep inorder to function at their peak. During deep sleep, glucose metabolism increases in the brain, promoting short and long-term memory, which increases your ability to retain information. Deep sleep is also when essential hormones, such as the human growth hormone, are secreted by the pituitary gland, contributing to growth and body development.

Additional benefits of deep sleep include:

  • Increasing blood supply to muscles
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Energy restoration
  • Promoting growth and repair of bones and tissues
  • Cell regeneration 

Now for a little fun! Have you ever wished you had the ability to fly or could control the narrative of your dream? If you are one of those rare individuals that have experienced lucid dreaming, you may have!

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Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreaming is when you are sleeping, but conscious that you are dreaming!. In some cases, you can control the storyline of your dream. Lucid dreams can potentially reduce nightmares, alleviate anxiety, and enhance motor skills and creativity. 

Lucid dreaming was confirmed for the first time by the scientific community at Hull University in 1975. Attempting to lucid dream may pose dangers for individuals who do not adequately prepare, therefore, please consult with a therapist or sleep specialist before attempting lucid dreaming. 

Since lucid dreaming occurs in a state between consciousness and unconsciousness, it is easy to slip into either state. Lucid dreaming is presented within REM sleep, which is also when sleep paralysis occurs. Therefore, if you have the ability to “control” your dream, but are actually feeling paralysed, it can cause disorientation. Additionally, lucid dreaming may cause sleep interruptions and derealization.

Although lucid dreaming may not be for everyone, quality sleep is!The quantity of sleep needed for each individual varies, but on average adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Children and teens should get more sleep than adults since their bodies and brains are still growing and developing.

Sleep is essential, it helps give you the energy that you need to function at your best. Quality sleep is even more important to your overall well being. So tonight, relax, snuggle in and get that REM sleep! Your health depends on it.

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