Why REM sleep is important for your mental health

Sleep is a beautiful thing. From the moment you roll your eyes at night to the exact second you wake up in the morning, your brain goes through different stages of sleep that are important to your health. While every stage of sleep is essential, REM sleep is king. REM stands for rapid eye movement; As the name suggests, your eyes move rapidly back and forth under your lids.

What is REM sleep and why is it important?

In REM sleep, your brain actively consolidates memories, improves cognitive performance, and creates your wildest, most vivid dreams. Your blood pressure and breathing increase, but your muscles relax, almost in a paralyzed state, to keep you from fulfilling your dreams. “REM sleep helps regulate emotions and process emotional memories,” says Dr. Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, certified sleep specialist and sleep coach at The Solution is Sleep. “During REM sleep, the amygdala, which is the emotional control center, communicates with the hippocampus to modulate and regulate emotional stimuli during the day.” Overall, REM is important for maintaining healthy mental functioning and your emotional stability.

How does REM sleep help you process your emotions?

A recent study was conducted at the University of Bern and the University Hospital Bern in Switzerland to investigate how the process works. The researchers examined the mice’s brains during REM, non-REM sleep and wakefulness. The objective was to understand why the front part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, concentrates emotions during wakefulness and not during REM sleep. And notice one thing about REM sleep it’s a very active state, so it was wonderful.

What the researchers found was that the code was cracked. They discovered that dendrites act as little gatekeepers as they prevent negative emotions from accumulating during REM sleep. As you already know, negative emotions are directly linked to emotional distress in the brain and body. Let’s briefly examine dendrites and why they are important during REM sleep.

Why are dendrites necessary for mental processing during REM sleep?

You are constantly exchanging emotions throughout the day as external and internal stimuli trigger their release. Neurons, a part of your nervous system, receive information and send it to the brain for processing. Each neuron has three parts – dendrite, cell body and axon.

Dendrites receive information and carry it to the cell body, while axons carry it. But according to research, during REM sleep, dendrites receive and store sensory messages but do not send them to axons for further communication.

This is thought to be a protection strategy, as the dendrites prevent any harmful messages from being sent. The results of this study have provided a deeper insight and understanding of REM sleep and how it connects to mental health.

How are your emotions affected when you don’t get enough REM sleep?

If you don’t get enough snooze time, it can wreak havoc on your mental health. “Insufficient REM sleep increases sensitivity to stressful stimuli or events,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. You’re more likely to be irritable, anxious, and emotionally unstable—not to mention having trouble concentrating and remembering things. Feeling groggy all day due to poor quality sleep is no fun.

According to The National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and reduce its ability to generate new healthy cells. It’s worth noting that sleeping less than six hours per night increases your risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other sleep disorders.

Suppose your thoughts and emotions are keeping you awake. In that case, you can try journaling before bed or even listen to a guided meditation that can help you filter and release your emotional burden. Find other tips for better Zzz’s here.

How does REM sleep benefit your emotions?

“Getting enough REM sleep helps us better process and regulate our emotions during the day,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. A sweet spot between 6 to 9 hours of sleep per night will do wonders for the mind and body.

Some of the key benefits are fewer mood swings, improved cognitive function and better memory retention. So, if you’ve had a rough day and your anxiety is through the roof, getting enough REM sleep can help your brain filter and consolidate your emotional memories, separating them from the harmless ones. This is why you feel more energetic and renewed after a good night’s rest, as your body and mind restore themselves.

How to Get Better Quality REM Sleep at Night

“There’s no way to specifically target an increase in REM sleep,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell “However, increasing the quality and quantity of total sleep can help improve REM sleep.” Identifying sleep triggers in your environment and removing them before bed also plays an important role. So keep or close the curtains that throw blue light from the bedroom while sleeping. “Alcohol and caffeine can lead to some REM suppression,” he adds, so it’s best to avoid them before bed.

Here are some additional tips. Holliday-Bell recommends the following tips to help you get enough REM sleep:

Keeping a consistent sleep schedule helps strengthen sleep Circadian rhythms. Going to bed at the same time every night will create a healthy, consistent pattern that will help your body calm down. Such a routine can make falling and staying asleep a breeze.

Get natural sunlight during the day. Sunlight helps regulate serotonin and melatonin cycles. Melatonin, which is released at night, enables you to read and sleep longer, thus improving the amount of time spent in REM sleep.

Exercising 30 to 60 minutes daily. Exercise helps balance your emotions and relieves stress, contributing to healthy sleep. Whether it’s jogging or climbing stairs, make sure you move throughout your day.

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