When we sleep, we go through a few stages. Prominent among them are REM and NREM. It is observed that for some non-specific reason, there is significant movement of the eyeball in all directions rapidly during REM sleep BUT does NOT send any visual signals to the brain. Hence, the name Rapid Eye Movement ( REM) sleep and the opposite – Non REM sleep. Some also say that they are “deep sleep” vs “shallow sleep” which I am not a great fan of. I believe they are simply various stages of sleep.
IF we draw a graph of brain neural activity, the graph will look something like this
As you can see, at the start it is the NREM which is occupying the real estate and the REM shows up intermittently. Approximately each of the cycles lasts for 90 minutes and then it changes. But in general, we can see the domination of NREM in the first half and REM in the second half.
Interesting Facts on REM and NREM
- Dream your way to creativity: As homo sapiens came down from trees to sleep on flat grounds, they developed REM sleep as an evolutionary advancement. REM sleep is responsible for the evolution of creativity, memory and problem solving. It is during REM sleep, the neural network gets more intricately wired with new synapses being formed. In some sense, it is the REM sleep that contributed to the supremacy of humans over other animals.
- Early morning school timing inhibits creativity: If schools, colleges or universities start pretty early in the morning, it is quite possible that the student has to wake up early and hence, foregoes some part of REM sleep. That is NOT good news for memory and creativity, which are most critical for studies.
- Sleep algorithm is an enigma: NREM has been measured in 4 stages depending upon how deep it goes. The deeper it goes, the body gets better rest and the housekeeping activity of scavenging the brain of useless memory and storing of useful memory in the long term storage area happens – this is a totally involuntary activity based on an enigma algorithm. God/Nature is the first and best coder.
- Forgetting is beautiful: The brain decides to delete (forget) what is irrelevant. You will definitely not remember what breakfast you had the same day last week. Forgetting is an essential function just as much as remembering is.
- Striping emotion – REM heals: REM sleep is responsible for stripping emotion from past events over time. For example, you would remember the death of a close relative. But rarely you can recollect the emotions that were recorded when it happened. It is a blessing in a way. It is not the Time, but it is REM that heals!
- 7 hours or nothing: 5 cycles of 90 minutes – 450 minutes approx. 7 hours gives you a good full cycle. Anything less is like jumping 90% of the well! Short sleep leaves work undone and there is no use. You add to the pressure of work.
- There can be no sleep “Deposit” and Sleep “Loans” ( this would appeal to the Finance community). You cannot oversleep to compensate for a past deficit nor you can accumulate a deficit to be cured by oversleep a bit later. It is 7.5 to 8 hours a day, every day! You would now have understood why from the chart above.
- You cannot “Live your dream”: The motor activity other than breathing is all frozen during REM stage , all muscles (particularly limbs) are frozen – imagine you swishing your sword or trying to run away when chased by a cobra! It protects you from getting injured!
- You are not meant to remember your dreams: You will only remember that you had vivid dreams or nightmares. Dreams have been the subject of so much research. Only one thing is clear – every dream is made of illogical and impossible combinations. If you behave during the day like the way you behaved in your dream, you will find yourself in a psychiatric ward. It is the façade or alibi as the brain is reorganizing the hard disk.
- Dreams have no meaning: Do not over analyze, dreams have no hidden meaning. If you need to know something, why would it be revealed in your dream? It would rather appear in Times Square visible to all.
- NREM is all about detox and growth: NREM sleep detoxifies the body, grows tissues, improves immunity, repairs injuries. Breathing slows down, body temperature goes down, blood pressure drops and the body gets a deep relaxation to get ready for the next day.
- You need both: It is NOT that NREM is better and preferred than REM. Combined activity and result from both is critical for overall physical and mental health.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article on REM and NREM sleep. Stay tuned for more from the Sleep Series by Srini! To read more about sleep and sleeping techniques, check out Healthy Reads or tune in to LIVE sessions by experts on GOQii Play.