Why Is Rem Sleep Important? The Sleep Science Answers


REM Sleep – I’m sure you’ve heard of it…

The deepest stage of sleep.

Dreaming.

Your eyes moving around in their sockets.

It’s a crazy phenomenon. But why does it happen, and why is REM Sleep Important?

REM sleep can be argued to be what put us at the top of the food chain. It is where your brain creates connections between all the things you experience and learn. REM sleep is important because it improves our social abilities, our creativity, and improves our understanding of so many things.

However – that’s just the short answer.

I was curious about exactly what REM sleep does to benefit us, so I dove into a bunch of research. What I found is outlined below.

Ready to find out the secrets behind REM Sleep? Then let’s dive in.

NREM & REM Sleep – What’s Going On

To make sure we’re on the same page, I’m going to quickly cover what makes REM sleep so unique.

Firstly, NREM sleep – the first and lighter stages – are like the clean and repair cycle of sleep. It’s where our brains regenerate, store memories, and generally just recover from the daily grind. In these stages, our brainwaves appear in slow, rhythmic pulses going from the front of our brain all the way to the back.

You can see how similar awake and REM brainwaves are.

Source – RobertLovesPi

REM sleep however, is different. The brainwaves look exactly like they do when we’re awake – but we’re dreaming. Our brain is still sending the same movement commands as if we’re awake, but these are blocked off from actually reaching our muscles. It’s almost like our brain is simulating and reviewing what it’s learned, and this is where it seems to make ‘connections’ between everything.

Why REM Sleep Is So Important

Sleep scientists have found REM sleep to improve complex abilities like emotional control, reading people’s gestured / facial expressions, our decision making, and our creativity in general.

Some theorize that these benefits are exactly what put us top of the food chain.

That’s great Craig, but what about the benefits to me? I don’t care about being smarter than animals!

-> I know! Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Connecting with Others

The reason we humans are so dominant is our ability to work and act as a large groups. It’s thanks to our intelligence, yes, but also our ability for co-operation and teamwork.

REM sleep is known to improve not only our cognitive intelligence, but our sociocultural complexity.

Now, those are big words. But the main point is that it helps us be great at acting as a group. Not just like a group of animals with an alpha male, but complex civilizations which number in the millions.

Why does this benefit you? Well, think of it on your day to day basis.

If you have a lot of REM sleep, you’ll be better at dealing with people. You are more in control of your emotions, more quick-witted, more able to recognize someone’s feelings from their gestures and expressions, and generally just better at connecting with others.

People play one of the largest roles in our lives. REM sleep is so important because it helps you truly connect with those in your life. You’re funnier, warmer, more approachable, and a better friend/partner/parent when you’ve had a good few nights of REM sleep.

The Flip Side

Want to know how truly important these social benefits are? Just look at autism. Autistic people can be so beautifully intelligent, but completely lack the social abilities to navigate through the world.

Autistic people often have significantly reduced, or almost non-existent REM sleep. It’s a scary ‘proof’ of just how important REM sleep is, and the benefits it gives us.

More A-Ha Moments

The most well-known reason why REM sleep is important are those ‘Eureka!’ moments!

If you were to be so bored you picked up a maths textbook and memorized it all.. you’d be able to pass a few school exams. You may even be able to impress a friend or two.

The real magic will happen if you combine that with REM sleep. It’s how you’ll connect the dots between everything you’ve learned. Not only will your understanding deepen, but you’ll be able to see what you’ve learned in new ways. And if you’re lucky, you might be able to make a connection and discover a new equation.

Obviously, this applies to more than a maths textbook. It’s actually quite a bad example.

Apply this to something you’re passionate about instead.

  • Want to write a book? REM sleep will help you realize how your characters would interact better.
  • Want to become an Instagram Influencer? REM sleep will help you come up with unique content ideas to help you go viral.
  • Want to earn that next promotion? REM sleep will help you understand how the different areas in your field work together, so you can propose new and better strategies.

These realizations apply to literally every area of your life: the list goes on, and on, and on.

In short – if you want to achieve your goals and dreams? REM sleep will help you get there.

The Flip Side

Ever heard of the term “Sleep On It?”

Like most of the ancient sayings, there’s good reason behind it.

Have you ever been stuck – unable to understand something? Someone’s been trying to explain something to you, but you don’t quite get it. Or you’re studying for an exam, but it’s not quite going in.

Then the next day you come back… and everything makes sense. Suddenly, you understand it!

This is in part due to REM sleep. It’s what allows your brain to make the connections between what you ‘know’ and what you ‘understand’.

If we didn’t have this ability, we would be forever replaceable by a textbook or a Google search.

Be Your Best Self

Another huge reason why REM sleep is so important is that we’re in better control of our emotions.

Think of the difference between a monkey and a level-headed person.

When the monkey is upset, it shouts and hollers. When it’s angry, it’ll push other monkeys around.

When a level-headed person goes through these same negative emotions, they can be truly self-aware. They still feel the emotions, but they’ll hold off on acting on them until they can deal with them a healthy way, like taking positive action, exercising, or talking to a friend.

Imagine both the monkey and the person on a scale.

The more REM sleep you have, the closer you are to that level-headed person.

The closer you are to the best version of yourself.

In short – REM sleep provides you with better control over your emotions.

Which means:

  • Less embarrassing outbursts
  • Less making mistakes
  • Less agreeing to things you later regret
  • Better, clearer decisions
  • More calm and clarity

The Flip Side

Do you know any friends, family, or well-known figures that seem to never have their emotions in check? Maybe they snap out at people and get easily angry or upset?

If yes, do they seem like the type of person that’s all getting their full night of sleep?

Irrational and emotional people are often suffering from lack of sleep. They don’t have the power to filter their emotions and keep themselves in check. They become closer to the monkey than to man.

Let’s End At The Beginning

Did you know that all animals on our planet sleep, in one way or another?

Yet not all of them enjoy REM sleep like we do. This deepest type of sleep is only present in warm-blooded mammals.

Humans, apes, horses, birds… we all do it.

What’s interesting is that out of all the living things, we humans are the ones who sleep in REM most intensely.

Matthew Walker – a renowned sleep scientist and author of ‘Why We Sleep – has his own view on this. He believes that humans evolved to sleep on the ground, unlike apes who sleep in the trees to stay out of danger.

We could do this thanks to our ability to harness fire, but we were still in danger while on the ground. So our sleep was compressed, and we typically need much less sleep than other animals. The interesting part is that our intensity of REM sleep.

This – Walker says – combined with better emotional control is why we became the most dominant species on the planet. Our ability to work together on a wide scale, and build homes to protect our ground-sleeping selves, is a key reason why life on Planet Earth didn’t become a question of “what species is top” but “what human groups are fighting now?”

Conclusion

REM sleep is a mystery.

While we understand some of it – which I’ve tried to detail here – there’s still so much about REM sleep, and sleep in general, that scientists are trying to understand.

I hope my simple explanations have helped explain why this beautiful stage of sleep is so important.

If this content’s helped you, please consider checking out some of the related articles below.

Thanks for reading. I hope you rest well!

Craig

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