Everyone dreams while they sleep, whether they remember it or not, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the most intense period of dreaming during the sleep cycle. The name comes from the random, side-to-side movement of the eyes while sleeping, which apparently relates to the visual images of dreams. A recent study has discovered a causal link between REM sleep and memory formation, meaning our dreams shape our memories.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
Occurring up to four times a night, every 90 to 120 minutes, REM sleep accounts for approximately 25% of total sleep time in adults. It lasts a mere 20 to 25 minutes, but it is these minutes that are significant according to the study conducted by researchers at Douglas Mental Health University Institute and the University of Bern.
The research studied spatial memory formation in mice by giving them certain tasks that demonstrates their skill of learning and recall. “We chose to target neurons that regulate the activity of the hippocampus, a structure that is critical for memory formation during wakefulness and is known as the ‘GPS system’ of the brain,” explains co-author of the research, Sylvain Williams. To determine whether REM sleep effects memory, the researchers turned off the memory-associated neurons in the mice while they were in REM sleep. The following day, the mice could not succeed at the spatial memory task learned on the previous day, as opposed to the control group who could remember. “Silencing the same neurons for similar durations outside REM episodes had no effect on memory. This indicates that neuronal activity specifically during REM sleep is required for normal memory consolidation,” the study’s lead author Richard Boyce explains. Williams adds, “We were able to prove for the first time that REM sleep is indeed critical for normal spatial memory formation in mice.”
The research illustrates just how important dreaming can be. Researcher Richard Stickgold highlights, “Take advantage of the time before bed to prep your dreams by deciding how you want to launch yourself into your dreams. Conjure the things you would like to think about or work on in your sleep, and it will become a dreamscape reality.”
Whether you want to master the saxophone or German pronouns, use your dream time wisely and cultivate the creative gains.
Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.
In another recent study, however, restless sleep, with no to little REM time, has been linked to an evolutionary survival tool, created to guard against unwelcome night-time guests. A modern hunter-gatherer tribe was the subject of the study, in northern Tanzania, and it was found that, on average, over a third of the group was awake or lightly sleeping, at any given time.
“If you’re in a lighter stage of sleep you’d be more attuned to any kind of threat in the environment,” said co-author Charlie Nunn, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke. Nunn continues, “Maybe some of the medical issues we have today could be explained not as disorders, but as a relic of an evolutionary past in which they were beneficial.”
If there is little chance for REM sleep, and therefore dreaming, it is not the end of the world. However, as more studies are conducted, they do stress the importance of listening to our bodies and to not dismiss or jump to conclusions about any signals they are giving. Sleeping is one of the best indicators to check if something is wrong, and dreams are the best way to interpret them.
Though we seem to be sleeping, there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dreams. And that will eventually startle us back to the truth of who we are.