Part 4: Importance of REM Stage Sleep and Dreaming

    Part 4: Importance of REM Stage Sleep and Dreaming

    We usually spend over 2 hours every night dreaming. Scientists don’t know very much about why or how we dream, though. The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, who had great influence on the study of dreaming from a psychological standpoint, felt that dreaming was a "safety valve" for unconscious desires. In 1953, researchers first explained REM sleep stage in infants. Only then did scientists begin to carefully study sleep and dreaming. They soon realized that the unusual and sometimes illogical experiences we refer to as dreams almost always take place during REM sleep. In fact, even most mammals and birds show signs of experiencing a REM sleep stage, but reptiles and other cold-blooded animals do not


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    The REM sleep stage starts when signals are generated from an area at the base of the brain called the pons. These signals travel to a region of the brain called the thalamus, which forwards them on to the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain that is responsible for thinking, learning, and organizing information. The pons will also send signals that literally turn off the neurons in the spinal cord, which causes temporary a paralysis of the muscles in both the arms and legs.

    If something should happen to interfere with this paralysis, some people will actually begin to physically act out their dreams. This is a rare and potentially very dangerous problem called REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. A person dreaming about running in a race, for example, may run into furniture or blindly hit someone sleeping close by, while trying to race past them in the dream.

    The REM sleep stage acts to stimulate the regions of the brain identified for use in learning. This may well be important for the development of normal a brain during infancy, which very well could explain why infants spend much more time in the REM sleep stage than adults do. Much like the deep sleep stage, the REM sleep stage is connected to an increase in the production of important proteins. One study concluded that the REM sleep stage affects the learning of specific mental skills. People who were taught a specific skill and then were deprived of any non-REM sleep stages could recall what it was they had learned after sleeping, but those who were prevented from entering the REM sleep stage could not.

    Some scientists believe that dreams are the brain’s cortex's effort to find meaning in the highly random signals that come during the REM sleep stage. The brain’s cortex is the part of the brain that organizes and interprets information from the environment during consciousness. It could be surmised that, given random signals from the pons during the REM sleep stage, the brain’s cortex also attempts to interpret these signals, creating the "story" out of fragmented brain activity – otherwise known as a dream.

    Either way, today’s psychologists generally agree that achieving the dream state of sleep is a critical element for maintaining good mental health. Conversely, depriving ones self from dreaming can cause a number of adverse health problems, including fatigue, reduced immune system efficiency, heart disease and mental health issues including delusions and severe cognitive reasoning deficits. This is a clear cut reason to seek medical help if you are not sleeping well. There are a number of successful therapies and treatments available if you are experiencing a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or general insomnia.

    In light of the research results, and just as a generally good practice, the optimization of your sleep environment should be given a very high priority. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, and you sleep in a cool (not cold), dark and quiet place. Keep pets away from the area, as well. Allergies and other outside influences can also be a factor in disturbing your sleep. For example, the recent outbreak of bed bugs has become particularly problematic in many parts of the country. This epidemic has not only physical but psychological consequences as well. The American Sleep Association, the top sleep health organization, strongly recommends good quality mattress and pillow covers in order to protect against bed bugs, dust mites, bio-fluids and other allergens.

    (Sources: American Sleep Association, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, The National Institutes for Health and Bedbug.com)

    This informative series of sleep articles is brought to you by SecureSleep™, the bedding encasement specialists, insuring that you can go to sleep with the piece of mind knowing you are protected from bed bugs and allergens. SecureSleep™ promotes Sleep Hygiene and Health. We are proudly endorsed by the American Sleep Association who recommends using SecureSleep™ encasements, an effective anti-bed bug/dust mite mattress and pillow cover.

    Related Articles

    Part 1: Sleep Basics - Why Do We Need Sleep

    Part 2: How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep

    Part 3: What are the Benefits of Sleep

    Part 4: Importance of REM Stage Sleep and Dreaming (this article)

    Part 5: What are Circadian Rhythms

    Part 6: Disease Associated with Sleep

    Part 7: Sleep Disorders

    Part 8: Clean Sleep Environment