The Health Benefits of Dream Sleep
We all know that sleep is important. We all know that doctors, researchers, and scientists have been warning us, for a long time, that sleep is a necessary pillar on the spectrum of good health and well being. We also know that many people are sleep deprived… not just in Australia, but also in the rest of the world.
There is a lot of research that comes out of both the UK and the US about how people are getting less and less sleep in the modern age, partly due to the technological jungle that we now call civilization. But doctors and researchers are even going beyond this to study the different types of sleep that we should be getting.
And one thing that they’ve discovered is that there is one type of sleep, in particular, that we should be focusing on.
What Is Dream Sleep?
Dream Sleep is another term for a type of sleep called REM Sleep (or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep). This is the phase of sleep where dreaming occurs, and is generally known as the ‘deepest’ sleep that humans experience.
The human brain is said to go through five different stages during sleep, and in REM sleep, the eyes of the sleeper move rapidly in all different directions (hence the name). People generally enter REM sleep within 90 minutes of falling asleep, but the stages repeat themselves several times over the course of the night.
Generally speaking, REM sleep accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of a an adult’s sleep cycle, though it plays a much bigger role in the sleep cycles of infants. Young children and infants experience more REM sleep than adults, as it accounts for about 50 percent of their unconscious rest.
Many people believe that REM sleep plays a key role in human health and development. It is believed that it helps humans with learning and memory, and also plays a big part in mood and temperament.
But as it turns out, REM sleep may be even more important that some people first thought.
Snoring and sleep apnea, along with other sleeping disorders, can do a lot to disrupt our quality of sleep—and sometimes, these conditions and problems can cut into our REM sleep… a problem which causes us to be sleep deprived. Sleep apnea is especially dangerous because of this.
But what do we miss out on when we fail to get enough REM sleep?
Well, here are just a few of the benefits that ‘dream sleep’ provides for us on a nightly basis.
The Benefits Of Dream Sleep
One of the benefits of dream sleep that people do not usually know about is that it may help you to be less prone to developing PTSD. In an article that was published not long ago in the Journal Of Neuroscience, it was shown that people who were given mild electric shocks after sleeping showed less fear-related brain activity if they were able to get more REM sleep the night before.
This means that people who get more dream sleep may actually be less prone to developing PTSD.
There is also a lot of evidence to support the idea that people tend to be better at reading and processing emotional stimuli after getting enough REM sleep. There is research, for example, that shows that people are better at reading emotions and facial expressions after a nap where REM sleep was achieved than they are after a nap where they failed to reach it.
People also tend to react more emotionally to certain types of stimulation before they have had sufficient REM sleep than they do after having it. For example, people who view emotional images when they are tired are more likely to have strong reactions to those images than people who have just slept and gotten sufficient REM sleep during their rest.
Some even go as far as to say that REM sleep almost acts like an emotional ‘soothing balm’ that helps us to keep our stronger feelings in check and under control.
This also helps us to feel better and less emotional when we wake up, which is a bonus and a welcome feeling for anyone who knows what it is like to exist in a state of ‘high-strung emotions’ for any serious length of time.
Researchers have also found out that the part of the brain that secretes the hormone norepinephrine takes a ‘break’ during Rem sleep. This hormone is usually associated with stress, and is said to affect the fear center of the brain.
Some believe that this hormone builds up over the course of the day, and that REM sleep is required to help ‘reset’ the natural levels of the hormone back to their normal state.
During REM sleep, this part of the brain shuts down, and the hormone is not released… which is good news for people who don’t want to experience more stress or fear than is absolutely necessary!
But What About the Act of Dreaming Itself?
One researcher, by the name of Matthew Walker, actually makes a very interesting point about dream sleep and the effects of dreams on our consciousness in this article, which was published on Business Insider.
When you dream, you become what he defines as ‘flagrantly psychotic.’ And if you really think about it, he is correct. When we dream,
- We see things that are not real. We are hallucinating.
- We believe things that could not possibly be true. We are delusional.
- We become confused about things: people, places, times, etc. We are disoriented.
- We experience wild, fluctuating emotions. We are labile.
- And then, at the end of it all, we wake up and forget most of our dreams anyway. We suffer from amnesia.
So what does dreaming really help to accomplish?
There are two schools of thought about this. On one hand, some people believe that dreaming is like an information dump, where our brains process things that we experienced during the day… effectively storing and cataloging it for later recollection.
And on the other hand, some believe that dreams are a part of our working subconscious mind. A time when our minds run free, and are guided only by the parts of the brain that are still firing when we are asleep (which are now free from the confines of rational thinking).
We may not be able to be completely sure if either of these is true… but we can see several important benefits to it.
One of them is creativity. We tend to be more creative after experiencing REM sleep.
Secondly, dream sleep can act as a sort of therapy for us. It can be a sort of ‘emotional first-aid,’ as Matthew Walker says, to help us wake up feeling better about troubling experiences we might have had before we slept.
It is still unclear to researchers how the mind really works, when you get right down to it—because as advanced as we are, the human brain is still a bit of a mystery.
But thankfully, science continues to show advancements, and to teach us about how important sleep is to us.
And hopefully, we can all take the hint and try to get more of it. Because anything that disturbs your quality of rest is probably something that you cannot afford to continue to allow to happen.
Sleep, and your health, are just far too important to overlook.