While we rest and recover our weary bodies and minds from a long day during night sleep, our eyes are actually not as relaxed as our general appearance during sleep would suggest, with regular periods of rapid eye movement characterizing a vital element of the stages of sleep, having a close association with the vivid dreams we experience as we drift off.
What is REM sleep and when does it occur?
It is likely that if you were to wake someone in the morning that you would catch them in a stage of REM sleep, which generally follows a lengthy initial period of non-REM sleep, entailing a series of rapid eye movements that can be seen partly through the eye lids by the random movements seemingly occurring beneath them. A person in this stage would show rapid readings of electrical activity (EEG), but muscle tone would be extremely relaxed in contrast, forming an essentially blissful bodily state.
REM sleep occurs in the average adult person around four or five times per night based on a regular night’s sleep of between 7 and 8 hours, of which 90-120 minutes will be taken up by the REM stage.
This amount varies hugely throughout certain stages of life, as a baby can spend up to 80% of their total period of sleep in an REM based state, while an elderly person would naturally require much less, proven through several studies indicating that REM sleep is crucial to normal learning development in young children. It is thought that if you are taught a new skill or learn new information during the day, it is vital that REM sleep is experienced that night, as opposed to only non-REM sleep, to ensure recall the next day.
What is the reason for the rapid eye movements?
Dreams have been discovered to occur almost always during the REM stage of sleep, with the eye movements in all directions representative of the person ‘looking’ at the projected dreams images created by the brain. For example, scoring an imaginary goal in a dream state would be reflected by a fast movement of the eye looking downwards from the illusion of a ball, then upwards towards the goalposts.
The malfunction of the temporary numbing or paralysis effect on the muscles induced by REM sleep is prevalent in the REM behavior sleep disorder, whereby full limb movement occurs during the stage where dreaming and recollection of dreams is considered mostly takes place.
This leads to potentially dangerous situations whereby sufferers of the disorder physically act out motions in their dreams unconsciously, which can range from harmless twitches to more violent actions, leading to several cases of partner injury for whoever shares the bed with those afflicted with the condition, although thankfully the disorder is highly treatable.
[box type=”info”]Amy blogs about eye health for Direct Sight, industry leaders in glasses online.[/box]