2. Memory Consolidation
The pons also sends signals to the cerebral cortex by way of the thalamus (which is a filter and relay for sensory information and motor control functions deep in the brain). The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain involved with processing information (learning, thinking, and organizing).
The areas of the brain that are “turned on” during REM sleep seem to help learning and memory. Infants spend almost 50% of their sleep time in REM sleep (compared to 20% for adults), which may be explained by the tremendous amount of learning in infancy.7
If people are taught various skills and then deprived of REM sleep, they often cannot remember what they were taught.
REM sleep usually begins after a period of deep sleep known as stage 3 sleep. An area of the brain called the pons—where signals for this sleep stage originate—shuts off signals to the spinal cord. That causes the body to be immobile during REM sleep.
When the pons doesn’t shut down the spinal cord’s signals, people will act out their dreams. This can be dangerous because acting out dreams without input from the senses can lead to accidents and physical harm such as running into walls and falling downstairs. This condition is rare and different from more common sleepwalking and is known as REM sleep behavior disorder.8
Tips For Supporting Healthy REM Sleep
There are things that you can do to make the most of this sleep stage each night.
1. Follow a Sleep Schedule
Go to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning. Following a sleep schedule can help maximize the amount of quality sleep, including REM sleep, that you get each night.
2. Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Keep your alcohol intake light before going to bed. Research has found that even moderate alcohol intake in the evening can interfere with REM sleep.9 Light alcohol intake doesn’t seem to have the same impact, but moderate to heavy consumption delayed the onset of this sleep stage and led to fewer REM sleep phases during the night.
3. Remember Your Dreams
You can develop your ability to remember your dreams by keeping a journal near your bed and writing down everything you can about your dreams when you first wake up. After a few weeks, your ability to remember your dreams will improve.
Some people claim that they have lucid dreams, which are dreams in which they can participate and change the dream as it develops. Lucid dreaming can be triggered through a number of techniques, though little research has been done on it.10
- Cleveland Clinic. Sleep basics. Updated July 20, 2012.
- The National Sleep Foundation. How often do you dream?
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Updated August 13, 2019.
- Dumoulin bridi MC, Aton SJ, Seibt J, Renouard L, Coleman T, Frank MG. Rapid eye movement sleep promotes cortical plasticity in the developing brain. Sci Adv. 2015;1(6):e1500105. doi:10.1126/sciadv.1500105
- Mutz J, Javadi AH. Exploring the neural correlates of dream phenomenology and altered states of consciousness during sleep. Neurosci Conscious. 2017;2017(1):nix009. doi:10.1093/nc/nix009
- Olson CA, Hamilton NA, Somers VK. Percentage of REM sleep is associated with overnight change in leptin. J Sleep Res. 2016;25(4):419-425. doi:10.1111/jsr.12394
- National Sleep Foundation. How your baby’s sleep cycle differs from your own.
- Boeve BF. REM sleep behavior disorder: Updated review of the core features, the REM sleep behavior disorder-neurodegenerative disease association, evolving concepts, controversies, and future directions. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010;1184:15–54. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05115.x
- Ebrahim IO, Shapiro CM, Williams AJ, Fenwick PB. Alcohol and sleep I: Effects on normal sleep. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013;37(4):539-49. doi:10.1111/acer.12006
- Voss U, Holzmann R, Tuin I, Hobson JA. Lucid dreaming: a state of consciousness with features of both waking and non-lucid dreaming. Sleep. 2009;32(9):1191–1200. doi:10.1093/sleep/32.9.1191
Written By:Mark Stibich, PhD Originally Appeared On:Very Well Mind Republished with permission.