In a recently published paper, researchers outline the importance of REM sleep and the causes and consequences of loss of REM sleep.
Sleep deprivation has significant effects on the overall health of an individual. An increase in the awareness of sleep-related conditions has created a market for sleep clinics, sleep aids, and extensive research on sleeping patterns. Sleep is composed of rapid eye movement (REM), or dream sleep, and non-REM portions. Sleep deprivation is directly linked to loss of REM sleep. Research suggests that the loss of REM sleep may result in anxiety, shorter attention spans, hallucinations, tension, and weight gain. An American research paper published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences compiles data pertaining to sleep deprivation and REM sleep loss.
The assessment of REM sleep is divided into two major schools of thought: a medical approach and a psychological approach. The medical approach focuses on the neurological aspect of REM sleep while the psychological approach analyzes dreams subjectively.
Causes of Loss of REM Sleep
REM sleep loss is associated with substance use including alcohol and marijuana. Alcohol is a depressant that induces sleep rapidly, however, when it is metabolized, it disrupts REM sleep. Cannabis is often utilized as a sleep aid and while it does extend deep sleep, it also significantly reduces the dreaming portion of sleep. Similarly, many sedatives or sleeping pills cause a loss of REM sleep as a result of extending light, or non-REM, sleep. Medical conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and insufficient sleep syndrome display the symptoms of loss of REM sleep as well. Behavioural and lifestyle factors have a significant impact on sleeping patterns. Use of artificial light and alarms reduces overall sleep causing lower levels of REM sleep.
Health Risks Associated with REM Sleep Loss
Evidence supports the theory that dreaming aids the immune system, assists with mood regulation, and provides memory consolidation. Recent studies suggest that adequate REM sleep is associated with preventing inflammation, controlling sensitivity to pain, and improving memory. Comparatively, losing REM sleep may contribute to increased risks of Parkinson’s disease, dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Restoring REM Sleep
Methods of restoring REM sleep include reducing dependence on sleep aids, including substances such as alcohol or marijuana, and other sleep-related medications. Changing lifestyle habits such as setting an earlier bedtime and lowering exposure to artificial light may benefit in prolonged dream portions of sleep as well.
REM Sleep Contributes to Overall Health
The article appropriately summarizes the importance of REM sleep on the human body. While a lack of research on the subject has resulted in some ambiguity, it is evident that REM sleep contributes greatly to the overall health of an individual. Perhaps an increased awareness and better understanding of dreaming and REM sleep may decrease the prevalence of this epidemic. As the article mentions, an appropriate diagnosis for loss of REM sleep is yet to be established. A method of documentation of REM sleep will benefit individuals to track personal sleeping patterns and take steps to optimize sleep for better health.
Written by Shrishti Ahuja, HBSc
Naiman, R. (2017). Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1406(1), 77-85. doi:10.1111/nyas.13447