What is REM sleep?

Did you know that REM sleep is involved in processes such as memory consolidation and learning? We invite you to discover everything that happens during this phase of sleep. Do not miss it!

REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) corresponds to 25% of the sleep cycle. It is estimated to occur between 70 and 90 minutes after initiating sleep. In addition, it occurs several times during the night, as the cycles repeat.

How does it originate? What are their characteristics? In this space we want to solve these questions. In addition, we detail how it is associated with cognitive processes and memory.

What is REM sleep?

It is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep or, better known by its acronym in English, Rapid Eye Movement (REM). It is one of the two stages of sleep, present in mammals,  some birds and other animals that have a pineal gland.

REM sleep is characterized by the following:

  • Rapid and random eye movements.
  • Reduction of muscle tone throughout the body.
  • Vivid dreams.
  • Fast, low-voltage brain waves.

The brain stem causes all these chemical and electrical activities. Furthermore, it appears to be involved indirectly in the transmission of acetylcholine, which limits the production of histamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.

Before and after REM sleep, ponto-geniculo-occipital waves (PGO) appear, originating in the brain stem. They reach their greatest amplitude in the visual associative cortex (that is why we see things when we dream).

On the other hand, the brain energy unleashed during this phase, for example, of glucose and oxygen metabolismexceeds that used while we are awake.

REM sleep characteristics

REM sleep is a stage of light sleep. Those who wake up during this stage remember perfectly what they were dreaming, wake up in a state of alert and with a general feeling of having rested well. In addition, during this phase, erections and irregular heart and respiratory rates are common.

It is such a characteristic sleep stage that the rest of the sleep stages are simply called non-REM sleepslow waves or deep sleep.

During the night, it is common to go through 4 or 5 phases of REM sleep. It is common to wake up for a few moments after this phase is finished. However, it is easy to resume sleep later.

Also, in this phase the enzyme MAO is released, which catalyzes the oxidation of certain monoamine neurotransmitters, thereby inhibiting movement. Otherwise, a person would do the movements that he does in his dream in real life.

There are people who wake up in the middle of the REM phase of sleep, with an anguished sensation of paralysis and with the presence of hallucinations; This is what is known as sleep paralysis.

Why should we thank this stage of the dream?

Because the following has been observed:

  • Neural activity is reactivated and strengthened during sleep.
  • It enhances the activity of the hippocampus, neocortex and thalamus (strengthens memory and consolidation of learning).
  • Physical and intellectual activity enhances REM sleep, which, in turn, reinforces these learnings.
  • Mature neural connections in newborns and babies sleep so much.

How is REM sleep related to memory?

Some scientific studies have found that REM sleep is linked to memory consolidation. Specifically, the following conclusions have been obtained:

  • Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on memory consolidation.
  • Maintaining adequate sleep hygiene has a positive impact on the consolidation of learning and memory.
  • The REM phase, in particular, is linked to memory and learning potential

According to these data, it can be concluded that not only sleeping, but also dreaming, has a positive effect on our memory. This would have important implications for study or work. We must sleep well to better remember what we have learned during the day. However, other scientists point out that we still have little data and that more research is necessary to be able to make inferences such as those exposed in the previous sections.

Sleep is relevant to the body

In short, sleep plays a decisive role for physical and cognitive health. If we want to consolidate learning and improve memory, while the body’s cells are repaired, we must get enough sleep to rest and dream. Our body will do the rest.

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