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Sleep Matters – the REM stage

Sleep Matters – the REM stage

Oct 03, 2022

Eric Evans

Sleep Matters – the REM stage

Sleep affects everything! It’s a simple but solid fact. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are compromising how your body functions…physically and mentally. During sleep your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. So if you’re not sleeping (or getting enough of the right type of sleep), your body doesn’t have the time it needs to repair and rebound from stress and the other strains. It matters now, and the long-term effects are very real.

Sleep deprivation goes much further than feeling tired and grumpy. It has a negative impact on your cognitive abilities and puts your physical health at risk – to start. Science has proven that poor sleep affects almost everything from weight gain (or failing to lose weight) to a weakened immune system. Considering we’ve been in a pandemic for the past 2+ years, having a weakened immune system alone could prove very costly. While the physical effects of sleep deprivation are important, this post will discuss how sleep deprivation effects your brain, including:

  • Short- and long-term memory
  • Learning
  • Concentration and focus
  • Problem solving and decision-making
  • Creativity

First, let’s talk about the 3 primary stages of sleeping – deep, light, and REM (rapid eye movement). REM sleep generally takes place during the latter part of your sleep cycles. And it is the stage of sleep that is compromised the most by lack of sleep. Think about it, if you are sleeping less than you should, or your sleep time is cut short, that necessarily affects the last stage of your sleep - aka your REM sleep. Why is that important? Because during REM sleep is when your brain ‘resets’ for the next day.  

When you sleep, your body heals and recovers physically first (during deep and light stages), and then works on the brain to end a slumber. REM sleep is when your brain is most active, so much so that during this stage, the rest of your physical body becomes extremely inactive…actively paralyzed so your brain can focus and commit all energy possible to repair itself. It’s almost as though the brain takes time off from monitoring all the other systems and functions of the body so it can focus 100% of its efforts on itself. For example, often times during the REM stage of sleep, your heart rate increases, and your breathing becomes irregular because the brain is not monitoring it so closely.

The Brain, and… the Central Nervous System

The Central Nervous System (CNS) is made of your brain and spinal cord. It is the main information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning properly. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, delaying signals your body sends through this important highway of signal exchange. When you sleep, your brain clears out waste and clutter from your CNS, removing toxic byproducts that accumulate throughout your day, allowing your brain to work well when you wake up. During your slumber, the brain erases or forgets unneeded information that would otherwise clutter up the CNS.

It is specifically during REM sleep that your brain “cleans house” – ultimately clearing out things that are not needed, to make room for sharp, more efficient functioning. For example, want to be better at remembering new information – get more sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to affect your ability to recall information in the short- and long-term. If you are not asleep long enough during the night, your brain doesn’t get to the “reset” (REM) stage where it catalogs and files away the information you need to retain and throws away the rest – thereby making room for new information. Getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep helps improve your creativity, concentration, and problem-solving skills for this same reason. Think about how much improving creativity, concentration, and problem-solving skills could help your job/career? If you are self-employed, it could be a game changer!

Nowadays, there are countless ways to track your sleep – a wearable (Fitbit, Polar, Apple Watch, Garmin, etc.), mattresses that monitor your sleep. There is even an app (multiple in fact) for that such as the app. Take advantage of whatever you have to start tracking your sleep.

The REM phase of sleep should make up 20-25% of your nightly sleep, usually occurring during the last half of your sleep! Make getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night a priority using these helpful tips to help improve your sleep hygiene.

  • Create a sleep schedule. Shut the shop down at roughly the same time every night. Compliment that by waking up around the same time (even on vacation and holidays).
  • Aim for at least 7 hours every night.
  • Give yourself a runway. Shut off your screens, meditate, read, stretch…
  • Reserve your bed for sleep. Don’t work, eat, study, or do anything else besides sleep in your sanctuary.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed. Not only will they make it harder to fall asleep, but they also will negatively affect the quality of your sleep.
  • EXERCISE REGULARLY (get outdoors if you can). Regular exercise helps the body maintain a natural rhythm, help you fall asleep sooner and rest better. Exposure to sun light helps your body’s internal clock. But DO NOT exercise right before going to sleep!
  • Avoid smoke. Even secondhand smoke can make it more difficult to fall asleep and negatively affect the quality of sleep.

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