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What is REM Sleep?

written by Guest Blogger September 9, 2012

Last week we introduced sleep expert, Dr. Mitchell Proffman, with his guest post, Demystifying Sleep to Get Better Zzzs. Here’s his next segment in helping us better understanding sleep and it’s about the dream sleep state!

Well, I hope you’re sleeping better, now that you understand a bit more about the importance of sleep and the normal sleep cycle. As I stressed in my first blog post, don’t take sleep for granted. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, there are ways you can enhance the quality of your sleep, aside from popping a sleeping pill which we all know equals nothing more than counterfeit sleep.

I promised you we were going to talk more about the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of the normal sleep cycle. Let me begin with a little historical background about REM sleep first…

REM sleep was identified by two pioneers in sleep research back in the 1950s. Today, these two guys are considered to be the founders of modern sleep research. They were very interested in consciousness and began to research the topic and realized that if they studied the unconsciousness of sleep, it would help them better understand the consciousness of when we’re awake. It was during their research that they discovered REM sleep is associated with dreaming and in increase of brain activity.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep

Throughout the night, if a person is sleeping normally, they should be going through the sleep stages and will experience four or five periods of REM sleep. After we have fallen asleep, our brain activity gradually slows down. We pass through various stages until we reach delta waves. Delta waves are associated with “deep” sleep. It is during this stage that one experiences rhythmic breathing and a certain amount of limited muscle activity.

To reach the REM stage, it generally takes approximately 90 minutes. During this stage a number of physiological changes occur in the body. Our heart rate and breathing quickens, our blood pressure rises and body temperature fluctuates. Brain activity increases to the Alpha brain wave level, which is the same level as when we’re awake. Interestingly, during REM sleep, our brain waves can actually go higher than when we’re awake!

REM sleep in adult humans typically equals 20–25% of the total sleep, which approximately equals somewhere between 90 to 120 minutes of a night’s sleep. As one goes from a REM cycle back to stage two, which is how it works, one often awakens or experiences a period of very light sleep. Generally each REM cycle increases in length, lasting a bit longer than the one before it, as one begins moving closer to the morning.

Remember there is REM and NREM (non-REM) sleep and anyone who does not go through the sleeping stages properly gets stuck in NREM sleep because their muscles are not paralyzed.

While in REM sleep your body becomes basically paralyzed. Mother Nature has stepped in and wanted to make sure we don’t act out what we’re dreaming. For example, if you were dreaming about playing soccer and your body wasn’t paralyzed, the person sleeping next to you might get hurt when you start kicking the ball trying to score a goal!

If you want to learn more about what goes on during the night and how you can enhance the quality of your sleep, read a copy of my EBook: The Deep Sleep Diet. In my practice I’ve found some of my patients like to eat during the night. I thought you might relate and find this an interesting topic so in my next blog post here on Live Lighter, we’ll cover Nocturnal Eating.

About the Author

Dr. Mitchell Proffman is a holistic chiropractor who has been interested in natural ways to cure insomnia and sleep issues for the past ten years. He has co-authored an eBook: The Deep Sleep Diet with an English Professor, James A. Voketaitis. Visit Dr. Proffman’s website to find out more about his work.

It’s great to know more about what goes on with us while we’re sleeping and dreaming. Now I have to wonder… why do we dream? Do you have any ideas in why nature has us go through a dream sleep state every night?

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Mitch Proffman September 11, 2012 at 7:07 am

There are many theories when it comes to the question, why do we dream. One theory tells us that our dreams represent our unconscious: our desires, thoughts and emotions. Another theory tells us that dreaming helps one to process the events of the day. Another still another theory tells us that dreams help the mind work more efficiently. A lot depends on the nature of your dreams.

Head Health Nutter September 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Thanks Dr. Proffman for your comment. Sounds like no one really know’s for sure the purpose of dreams!

A continued experience that I get excited over is when I go to sleep thinking of an issue I’d like clarification on (normally I have a specific question that I repeat over and over again as I drift off to sleep) and my dreams reveal an answer!

I’m getting real personal here, but in one significant instance I was dating a man a few years back and I had doubts about our relationship. I went to sleep asking myself, “what do I do about _______.”

My dream that night was the most amazing dream ever! In that dream I met the said man on a mountain top, hugged him goodbye and then jumped off the mountain and started flying!

It was a lucid dream, and I actually FELT the freedom of flying, the wind in my hair, the exhilaration of defying the laws of gravity. It was a liberating dream and when I woke, I immediately wrote it down in my dream diary so I could access the knowledge gained when I was fully awake.

As soon as I wrote down the dream, I KNEW what I needed to do even before I gained full consciousness. I ended it with him and in a few short weeks, I started dating another man, whom I had only several short interactions with over 2 years (and wasn’t even physically attracted to at the time), and who eventually became a committed relationship for almost 7 years!

There IS power in dreams. I believe that all of the theories you mention are accurate, and that we can use our dreams to assist us in our life journeys. We can use dreams as an access point to our subconscious (or the Universe/God, depending on your belief) in order to help us hear our “gut instincts” and make the best possible decisions we can at the time.

Dr. Mitch Proffman September 15, 2012 at 10:42 am

Great Lucid Dreaming!!!
Good points about dreams!!
I have read a few books on lucid dreaming and you seem to have figured it out. It is a good idea to pose a question before bed and then sleep on it for a solution.
A little trick to recalling your dreams is as soon as you wake up
1)do not move your head or open your eyes
2)lay there for a few minutes and think of only recalling the dream..not anything else like what you need to do for the day
3) open eyes slowly and write down anything you can recall about the dream
A dream is like a vapor on a mirror and will literally fly out of your head if you move to quickly or open your eyes to fast!!
Sweet Dreams !!!!


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