We started this two-part blog entry last week when we discussed how REM sleep occurs in you nightly sleep routine. This time we will be going into why the brain requires REM sleep and what makes it so important to our health. The true function of REM sleep is not fully understood as of yet but there are some well supported theories of its benefits.
One of the most favored theories of REM sleep is titled the Ontogenetic Hypothesis of REM sleep. This hypothesis proposes that the purpose of REM, or active, sleep is vitally important for the development of the brain. This is thought to be true since the stimulation provided during the REM of newborn infants is responsible for forming the appropriate neural connections and nervous system development that they require to properly function and develop. This is shown further by studies in sleep deprivation in children showing that without the proper sleep they can serious behavioral and brain problems later on in life. Also, as you get older the amount of REM sleep you require sharply decreases. This of course implies that REM sleep becomes less important as we get older which may be the case but it certainly doesn’t mean we can do without it.
Another theory is that REM sleep directly benefits the retention of memories. Studies show that REM benefits procedural (memory associated with performance of particular actions) and spatial (memory of one’s environment) memories. Some theories propose that REM acts as a sifter for useless that helps you forget the things that aren’t important and reinforce the things that are. There is some serious opposition to these claims such as a particular case study where a man had little to no REM sleep due to a piece of shrapnel in his brain stem and yet it had no impact on his memory.
There is a theory that we move our eyes during REM sleep because it corresponds to the direction we are looking during our dreams. This is supported by studies that have shown that in dreams where a there is a defined goal, the dreamers eyes point in the directions of what he later described was happening in the dream. This theory is often seen as flimsy since those born without vision as well as unborn children both experience the REM phenomenon.
There are several other more narrowly accepted theories as to why we require REM sleep but scientists continue to remain indecisive on the topic. Regardless of the reason the fact remains that REM sleep is vital to the survival of all mammals and birds. The best way to get the necessary amount of REM sleep is to sleep on a comfortable mattress, preferably one from Mattresses for Less! Check out their massive inventory and get yourself into a ridiculously comfortable mattress tonight!