REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is a very important part of our sleeping pattern. This stage of sleep is the most important phase of sleep that we experience. Rapid eye movement sleep is the 5th stage of our sleep pattern which generally happens around 60 – 90 minutes after go to sleep. For the period of REM sleep our eyes tremble rapidly under our closed eyelids; our respirations become shorter and irregular, our heart beat gets faster and blood pressure increases.During REM sleep, our brain is nearly as active as when we are awake. During this phase of sleep, our muscles become paralyzed (atonia) which prevents us from acting out our dreams.
REM sleep can influence memory
REM sleep is very important because it’s a time when our brain areas associated with memory become active. It’s theorized that while we are in REM sleep, dreams are the result of the data being absorbed during the day being analyzed and filed away. REM sleep seems to improve upon our procedural (how to do things) memory. Non-REM sleep, as in a daytime nap, seems to improve declarative (easily recalled) memory. During REM sleep we can enter a type of virtual reality, where some things we dream may have symbolic significance, which is different from our waking state. It is somewhat surprising that the brain’s filing system can always make space for new data.
Significance of REM sleep for restoring energy
REM sleep is restorative. When we don’t get enough REM sleep, we sometimes feel like we haven’t slept at all. Restorative sleep is controlled by circadian clock which is a natural mechanism within us. Our circadian clock tells us when it is time to go to sleep and when it is time to wake up.
To experience full restorative sleep, we should try to sleep according to the inner clock within us, rather than the clock on our bedside table. Oftentimes, those of us who work during our normal hours of sleep, have to change our circadian rhythm to accommodate our working and sleeping hours.
To enjoy full restorative sleep, we should be able to sleep according to our circadian inner clock. A hormone, called Melatonin, is responsible for helping us set our inner clock. Without our circadian rhythm, our sleeping periods we would not feel as rested as we should.
Sleep (all the phases) restores the body as if we have batteries that require recharging. The amount of sleep a person needs is somewhere between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per day or night. The 6 to 9 hours of sleep per day or night gives our body the time it needs to get through all of the required phases of sleep. REM sleep is extremely important because it is the restorative part of sleep.
No one exactly understands the phases of sleep, or how sleep works to restore us. We just know that we need it to survive. Individuals who consistently lack the REM cycle in their sleep pattern can run the risk of falls, injuries, car accidents, as well as physical and mental health problems. Lack of REM sleep can have a detrimental effect on concentration, motor skills and memory. Sleep deprivation can affect the immune system and the nervous system.
Melatonin – Your Vital Hormone
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your pineal gland that regulates your wake/sleep cycle. One of its main roles is to help you get to sleep.
Science strongly shows how melatonin could be the most vital hormone for your health.
According to renowned Osteopathic Physician, Dr. Joseph Mercola, “Melatonin has roles in cancer prevention, strengthening your immune system, and may even slow down cellular aging; in fact, it has been the subject of preclinical research on over 100 different disease applications.1 It’s your body’s “Superhero of the Night,” and light is his number one nemesis.”
Artificial lighting actually disrupts melatonin production and in our 24/7 world where the cities rarely sleep or close for the night, many people are becoming deficient in this power hormone.
Melatonin – Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-aging, Mood Booster.
You learned earlier about the acid-alkaline balance and the importance of mopping up excess oxidants by antioxidants. Melatonin is actually one of your most powerful natural antioxidants. It has a very powerful anti-inflammatory effect and without it, it causes your thymus gland, a major component of your immune system to actually shrink in size.
Studies have shown that a deficiency of melatonin can lead to the following health problems:
- Decreased immune function
- High blood pressure and heart disease.
- Increased risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, depression, obesity/weight gain and other autoimmune disorders.
The moment you turn on your light at night, you confuse your brains interpretation of whether its day or night. Your brain thinks its day-time and this signals your pineal gland to stop producing melatonin. Even if you just switch on the light for a second, your melatonin pump usually does not switch back on until the following night.
How to Increase Your Melatonin Levels
You can actually artificially increase your melatonin levels by taking supplements, and, in some cases, doctors are prescribing melatonin supplements for issues like insomnia. You can also find melatonin in a variety of foods such as bananas, oats, rice almonds, coriander, and goji berries. In recent times medicinal marijuana has been widely legalized around several states in the US and one of its main prescriptions is for insomnia. Cannabis actually creates a huge surge in melatonin production from the pineal gland. Cannabis has also shown in various studies to decrease the growth of cancerous tumours and low melatonin levels are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
- Try to get real natural light exposure daily – Your pineal gland only produces melatonin when there is a sufficient contrast between the level of light you’re exposed to during the day in relation to the level of light you’re exposed to at night. So, the pineal gland will not begin to produce melatonin if you are in darkness most of the day, as it won’t be able to tell the difference between night and day.
- Sleep in complete darkness when possible – A slightest glow from an alarm clock, a laptop or mobile phone and even street lights will disrupt the sleep/wake cycle and prevent the production of melatonin, as artificial light like this confuses your brain. Keep electrical equipment at a distance or switched off and make sure your curtains are fully drawn to make your room as dark as possible.
- Avoid using your computer or watching TV for at least 1hr before going to bed – Artificial light confuses the sleep/wake cycle and prevents the production of melatonin.
- Use low wattage yellow, orange or red light bulbs if you need a source of light at night – Light in this bandwidth does not shut down melatonin production whereas artificial blue light emitted by most other light bulbs and electronic devices do.
- Keep your room at night cool, no higher than 70C – Keeping cool at night is the optimum way to sleep and boost melatonin production.
- Take a hot bath, use a sauna or steam room 90 to 120 minutes before you sleep – this increases your core body temperature and the immediate drop when you stop switches on the sleep response in your body.
- Become a sun worshipper – if it is possible try to wake up with the sun and catch some rays for at least 15 minutes at dawn. This helps boost your natural production of vitamin D at the start of the day and also helps create a strong contrast between day and night, helping you boost melatonin production at night. Many experienced meditators enjoy a morning meditation and a well-known yoga technique known as sun salutations is performed first thing in the morning.
- Throw out your loud alarm clock – many studies have shown that waking up with a loud alarm clock causes harmful stress. If you can avoid using an alarm clock your mind and body will love you.
- Meditate – In 1995, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center’s Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program found that meditators had significantly higher melatonin levels than non-meditators. They also found that when the test subjects did not mediate, their melatonin levels did not increase that night. The conclusion was that daily meditation, particularly before bedtime, increases melatonin production. Another study by Vincent Giampapa, MD, showed an astonishing average 98% increase in melatonin among study participants who meditated.