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Using Rapid Eye Movement to Our Advantage

Posted on May 19th, 2017

How our eyes and brain are affected by sleep has been a popular topic of research for centuries. Intensive study of the fascinating functions of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and what it means for human creativity has been comprehensively explored. FYidoctors examines this phase of rest and how much it affects us from day-to-day.

What is REM, exactly?

REM is one of the five stages of sleep that most people experience nightly where your eyes go through quick, random movements and paralysis of skeletal muscles. The amount of time spent in REM sleep varies significantly with age. An average adult spends approximately 25% of time sleeping in this stage, taking anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes. Throughout one night, people tend to cycle through REM sleep four or five times.

It is common for some people to experience light sleep, or even to wake up completely following a cycle. The amount of time a person spends in REM sleep has a lot to do with certain psychological factors – people who suffer from depression tend to be in the state for a longer duration than those without it and infants spend more time in it than adults.

During this period of sleep, most of the muscles become paralyzed and the activity of the brain's neurons becomes quite intense. Sometimes referred to as paradoxical sleep, this stage is when most people experience vivid dreams.

Theories on REM

Research on this unique phase of mammalian sleep continues today, along with the exploration of how to use REM to our advantage.

One theory circling the research community is that sleep is important for the consolidation or stabilization of spacial and procedural memory. More clearly put, it has been proposed that adequate REM sleep can help with remembering things.

Another theory states that this sleep stage is vital for healthy development of the human brain in infants. This study proposes that REM sleep is responsible for the neural stimulation necessary to develop mature neural connections.

It is also said that the sleep cycle facilitates the way creativity connects elements into new combinations that are helpful for problem-solving.

Uses in therapy

Interestingly, control of eye patterns has been used in popular forms of counselling. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an integrative psychotherapy approach that will simulate the quick eye movements that occur during REM as a method to draw out emotional connections associated with a patient’s past negative experiences. This has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma and many other mental health problems. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.

Typically, during a session, eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used while targeting a memory. By holding onto different aspects of that event or thought in mind and at the same time using your eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across your field of vision, clients begin to process the memory and associated feelings. Researchers believe that by connecting past traumas with the same biological mechanisms involved in REM sleep, via EMDR, internal associations arise and the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level.

To find out more about REM and what happens when we dream, check out our blog.