There are 5 distinct sleep stages, with REM sleep being one of them. Most people fall into the REM sleep stage nightly, and many experience it four or five times each night.
REM stands for rapid eye movement, and is characterized by random, fast-darting movements of the eyes. While the amount of time you spend in REM sleep varies depending on your age, most adults spend up to 25 percent of their total sleep time in REM sleep. On the other hand, newborns spend more than 75 percent of their sleep time in REM sleep.
On average, adults enter into a REM sleep cycle every 90 to 120 minutes. While in REM sleep, your brain’s activity, primarily in the mid-brain and forebrain, becomes heightened and intense. Yet, conversely, many of your muscles enter a state of temporary paralysis and immobility. There’s an absence of motor function, with the exception of the muscles of the eyes and diaphragm. Because of this stark contrast between the physical paralysis of the sleeper (external paralysis) and the heightened brain activity (internal arousal), that REM sleep is referred to as paradoxical sleep. It is during this stage, that people experience more vivid and lucid dreams. Sleep researchers believe that the muscle paralysis that occurs during REM sleep is to prevent people from violently acting out their vivid dreams.
The first time during the night that you enter the REM sleep stage, it lasts about 10 minutes. Each time you enter the REM sleep thereafter, the length of your REM sleep stage lengthens. While REM sleep occurs several times during the night, it represents the smallest portion of a person’s total sleep duration. When you enter REM sleep, not only does your heart rate and breathing increase, but your finger and face may twitch.
Sleep studies have revealed that people who are sleep deprived enter into REM sleep more quickly than those who are not. People suffering from depression have shorter REM sleep cycle duration, but when on certain antidepressant medications, their REM sleep stage lengthens.
Research has shown that REM sleep has a direct correlation to creative process enhancement than other sleep phases, or even being awake. The thought is that REM sleep alters neurotransmitters in the brain enhancing its ability to solve problems creativity. Because REM sleep has been linked to memory consolidation, people who are deprived of REM sleep, may have more difficulty remembering and learning new things.
While researchers continue to delve deeper in understand the phases of sleep, one thing is certain: sleep is essential to restore energy, both in the body and mind.
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