This information is based on official Government medical data on REM Sleep
Most people tend to think about sleep as a period when the body and the brain shut down. However, according to recent findings, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While scientists do not fully understand sleep, studies proved that, during sleep, our entire system runs an array of processes important for toxin elimination and tissue restoration. Moreover, sleep is crucial for solidifying and consolidating long-term memory.
Because we take in so much information during the day, our brain is wired to store only the data that’s crucial for our being. As such, the information is stored in the short-term segment until we go to sleep. In this state, complex processes take place in our memory section of the brain, in order to sort the type of data that need to be stored for longer.
Other studies proved that sleep helps our immune system to function at its best. Also, some research shows a strong connection between the quality of sleep and overall productivity and well-being. Not to mention that the benefits of proper sleep are strongly interconnected with the way we function in the modern world.
Do I Have a Healthy Sleep Routine?
With so many evidence suggesting that we need better, longer sleep sessions, one begins to wonder about what it takes to have a healthy sleep routine.
According to specialists from the National Sleep Foundation, a good night’s sleep has several elements, and duration is one of the crucial ones. As such, depending on the age, a person should sleep about:
- 7 to 9 hours if they are adults
- 8.5 to 9.25 hours if they are teenagers
- 10 to 11 hours if they are children (50 to 10 years of age)
- 11 to 13 hours as preschoolers
- 12 to 15 as infants and toddlers
- 12 to 18 hours as newborns
Until we reach the age of 10 or 11, our brain is constantly gathering new information, which is one of the reasons why we need so much sleep. Still, we continue to add information as adults too, so we need about 8 hours of downtime to function properly.
Overall, a healthy sleep routine involves consistency (8 hours of sleep every night) and an environment that allows you to go through all the documented stages of sleep:
- Stages 1, 2 & 3, also called Non-REM (NREM) sleep
- REM sleep.
The Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage is the only time when dreaming occurs. Although scientists don’t yet understand the mechanisms behind REM, this stage is considered to be important for memory storing, mood balancing, learning, and other processes vital for our well-being.
As such, we will focus our attention on this sleep stage and the disorders that occur when people can’t reach it.
REM Sleep 101
During the REM sleep phase, two things happen:
- The cerebral cortex in the brain receives signals from other areas and starts various processes that involve memory storing, thinking, information organization, and learning
- The spinal cord switches off the movement, so the dreamer can’t act on the things they are dreaming about. As such, during REM sleep, the motor muscles are completely paralyzed.
In conclusion, the act of dreaming (even though it seems vivid and adventurous) is a mental activity as the body remains still.
Even so, the body and brain go through several changes during this sleep cycle. As such, an observer may notice changes in breathing and heart rate (close to waking levels), temperature changes, increased blood pressure, twitching, and rapid eye movement. Scans of people in full REM cycle showed that the brain is almost as active as when we are awake.
Scientists were not yet able to understand why we dream or how the brain interprets the signals to create dreams, but they do understand the significance of this stage for the overall health of the human brain.
REM Sleep Disorder
As scientists started to understand the importance of sleep for a healthy brain and body, they also learned that over 70 million people in the US alone suffer from sleep disorders.
Even more, until the date of this article, we know of around 80 different sleep disorders (the numbers could go up as the studies continue). The conclusion that arises from these data is that sleep disorders are very common, especially in developed countries.
While insomnia or sleep apnea may be more common, REM sleep disorder (RBD) is just as serious and can be the underlying cause for deeper neurological problems.
People with RBD don’t put their motor muscles in temporary paralysis, or the process is incomplete. As a result, they can exhibit symptoms such as:
- Lashing out physically (punching or kicking the person sleeping next to them)
- Shouting & screaming
Because the sleeper doesn’t realize they are acting on their dreams (which can be violent or vivid), they can’t control their actions in bed. This can (and usually does) lead to injuries on themselves and their partners. Even more, according to research conducted by Drs. Schneck and Mahowald, 38% of people with RBD may develop other neurological conditions (such as Parkinson’s) along the way.
Causes & Diagnosis
For now, the causes of RBD are unclear, but studies on animals point towards patients who have suffered lesions on the brain stem. However, there were patients who registered RBD as a severe reaction to a specific medication or as a withdrawal symptom during alcoholic recovery.
Furthermore, there are studies who link RBD with PTSD and living traumatic experiences.
RBD can be confused with other disorders, which is why the diagnosis must be established at a specialized sleep center, after a thorough sleep study. For this, the specialists will ask the patient to spend one night in the center, during which they will monitor the brain and muscle activity.
In most cases, one night of extensive sleep monitoring is enough in establishing the diagnosis of RBD.
RBD and other sleep disorders can be treated or managed via medication and improving sleep habits. However, it is crucial that you get a correct diagnostic before discussing treatment with your healthcare provider.
Overall, RBD is not a life-threatening disorder and can be kept under control, as long as patients get specialized help.