Sleep is defined as the resting state in which the body is physically not active and the mind is unconscious. For most adults, at least seven hours of sleep each night is recommended to maintain proper cognitive and behavioral functions. This time is crucial for our body to repair and adequately prepare itself for the following day.
Phases in Sleep
With the ever-growing science and technology industries, various research studies have been conducted to understand the importance of sleep. According to the Sleep Research Foundation, our sleep is divided into two phases: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep. Up to 20% of our sleep time constitutes REM sleep stages, whereas the remaining 80% are NREM sleep stages. The first phase of REM usually lasts for 10 minutes, and the consequent REM phases get progressively longer until the final stage of REM sleep may last for up to an hour.
Did you know, REM sleep is a unique phase of sleep that’s only observed in mammals and birds? As the name suggests, this phase is defined by rapid and random eye movement. This means that your eyes are darting back and forth under your closed eyelids. During REM sleep, the body and brain also go through several changes including fast and irregular breathing, increased blood pressure, brain activity similar to that seen while awake, and twitching of the face and limbs.
It is during this state that most of your dreaming takes place. REM sleep comprises very vivid dreams due to increased brain activity, whereby your muscles are immobilized, yet the brain is very active. At the same time, your muscles become temporarily paralyzed—necessary to ensure you don’t attempt to act out those dreams. For this reason, REM sleep is also be referred to as paradoxical sleep at times. REM sleep involves more brain activity than NREM and is considered a more “awareness” state since your heart rate and blood pressure increase to levels close to what you experience when you are awake.
Importance of REM Sleep
While sleeping as a whole is important for our health, the REM sleep stage plays a particular importance in our lives. It helps to ensure better mental concentration and mood regulation, allowing us to improve our daily work performance and overall quality of life. When there’s a lack of REM sleep in our sleep routine, our immune system can become weakened, making us susceptible to infections and diseases. Lack of REM sleep could halt the growth of new healthy cells and tissue in our body too. Oftentimes, poor REM sleep may be due to sleep disorders such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, which causes you to wake during the night.
Getting a Good Night Sleep
As our days get more and more hectic, we fail to plan a good nighttime routine. This directly impacts the quality of sleep we’ll be having. Therefore, practicing a few healthy habits before going to bed can help your mind wind down properly.
- Please avoid using your phone at least 1 hour before you go to bed as the blue light from our screens suppresses melatonin (a hormone that promotes sleep)
- Partake in relaxing activities such as having a warm bath or reading a book before heading over to the bed
- Set a schedule for yourself to go to bed and wake up at the same time
- Avoid caffeinated, alcoholic, or nicotinic food and beverages at least 4 hours before bed.
- Create a comfortable environment for you to sleep in; no bright lights, loud sounds, or distractions from the TV and computers
- If you continue to feel tired or can’t seem to sleep well, consult a doctor as soon as possible to look into what could be causing these issues
As you’re reading this, scientists worldwide continue to learn about the function and regulation of sleep. We’ve come a long way in understanding sleep, and there’s still a long path ahead of us. In the meantime, we have to avoid neglecting this vital component of our lives and our overall well-being. Get the ZZZs and sleep well!