REM sleep is an amazing, pleasure-filled part of the sleep cycle. Dreams can be very vivid and real - sometimes so much so that you feel deprived if you're awakened in the middle of one.
Do you remember all your dreams the next day?
I'm sure I don't remember all of mine, but I do remember dreaming, and I can remember bits of dreams.
If you're stressed, you have trouble sleeping, and lack of sleep causes more stress.
Using drugs can interfere with normal sleep patterns. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs must list sleep problems as one of the side effects.
Often our eating habits interfere with sleep.
Great sleep, night after night, is highly restorative.
For some of us, work or work anxieties interfere with sleep. Either we work late - in some cases even working all night - or we're still thinking about work when we go to bed.
At least if we go to bed at a reasonable time we stand a chance of getting a decent night's sleep.
But if we don't allow our minds to stop ruminating over work or personal problems, or money problems, sleep doesn't come. Or, it starts late - even in the early hours of the morning.
I've had that experience quite a few times - but those times were very few compared to many of my friends and colleagues.
When it has happened, I felt so washed out the next day that I was barely functioning.
Or, a couple of times, if I'd had no sleep at all, nervous energy or adrenaline, or something kept me energized for another 8-12 hours - then I would crash and sleep hard.
That hard sleep is often not restorative because it may not include enough REM sleep.
One of my best friends, a man I'd known since we were both in 7th grade, often sacrificed a good night's sleep in order to get a job done to perfection.
He was an amazing craftsman - a genuine artisan as a builder.
He'd received many top awards for his custom homes, and a continuous stream of accolades from those who bought his houses.
Many times he couldn't sleep because of the pressures of the job. But the pressures were largely self-imposed. Notice I'm speaking of him in the past tense.
I've known other very hard workers who routinely worked all night if they felt it was necessary.
Some of them are also gone and others are disabled.
Here's a good summary of the vital nature of sleep:
I don't think anyone would dispute the fact that disrupted sleep can make us feel irritable and depressed and impair our ability to function well. Sleep is also essential to good health. It is believed that at least 50% of Americans over the age of 65 suffer from some form of sleep disturbance. Sleep deprivation for a prolonged period of time can lead to stress and depression of immune function. People who develop cancer often give an antecedent history of sleep disorder lasting several years prior to diagnosis.
This was written by Vivien Wu, P.A. and Terry Grossman, M.D. in The Baby Boomer's Guide to Living Forever.
I found this book several years ago at a Seaport Village bookstore in San Diego, even though Dr. Grossman has a clinic here in Golden, Colorado.
Dr. Grossman's approach to great health and longevity uses a lot of alternative health care approaches. His clinics are staffed with naturopaths, dieticians along with other M.D.s who believe in minimal use of medications.
Sleep deprivation most certainly is a serious problem.
When you're sleeping well, naturally - with no drugs - you should always experience REM sleep.
I have no scientific backup for that statement. It's just my own personal experience along with some conversation with others about their sleep experiences.
I've had a number of friends who have been into drugs, both prescription and street drugs.
Some drugs cause a deep, dreamless sleep which is often a longer sleep. In some instances, individuals sleep for very long periods of time with no dreams.
From my own experience and from what I've read, this drug-induced sleep can't be healthy.
In fact, depression is often part of the picture with this type of sleep.
Studies seem to indicate that infants experience REM sleep during about 50% of their sleep times, where adults are typically in that phase only about 20% of the sleep periods.
Numerous authors I've read say brain activity is very intense during REM sleep, that if someone is awakened directly from that phase of sleeping, they may not realize they were asleep.
REM sleep is often also referred to as paradoxical sleep.
Major muscle groups are disabled during paradoxical sleep, otherwise sleep walking occurs.
Apparently the brain may be organizing and establishing memory and substantiating learning of new information during this highly active sleep state - which explains why infants learn with extreme efficiency - in connection with 50% of their sleep being rapid eye movement sleep.
In an article found in about.com we're told that REM sleep signals originate in an area of the brain called the pons.
The pons simultaneously shuts off signals to the spinal cord so that we're immobile during our active dream state sleep.
Knowing that little piece of information helps you and I to understand how amazingly restful this paradoxical sleep stage is.
If you remember those nights when you have really vivid dreams, and recall too how very rested you felt in the morning, you can understand how great sleep can be - especially when it's completely natural.
A couple of those REM sleep periods each night are exactly what we need - night after restorative night.
The about.com article I read was written by Mark Stibich, Phd.
Dr. Stibich has a very interesting career going, along with a terrific education.
His doctorate came from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, with a focus on health behavior, social marketing and health communications. Mark also holds a Masters in Health Science, also from Johns Hopkins.
He is Chief Scientific Officer at Xenex - which manufactures and sells machines to hospitals. The machines are UV disinfection systems.
There's no doubt that Xenex's systems offer a much-needed solution to a terrible problem.
Hospital deaths annually from infections acquired by patients while in the hospital are in excess of deaths from AIDS, breast cancer, and car wrecks combined.
If we get regular, quality sleep during most nights of our lives, hopefully we can avoid ever having to spend time in the hospital.
Sleep isn't the only requisite, but it's right up there with great nutrition and exercise as necessary elements of maintaining great health and avoiding illness and disease.
Maybe the main interrupter of REM sleep is stress.
We probably can't eliminate all stress, but we can come close enough.
Eliminating the sources of stress may be mostly impossible, but changing the way we interpret events, relationships and even our own thoughts can allow us to relax and live in the moment.
Minimizing the effects of stress is very rewarding when it enables nightly sound sleep which includes REM sleep.
Keep in mind also that less than optimum nutrition can also produce stress and interfere with quality sleep.
Not only what you eat, but when you eat is crucial.
Just this year I learned from Dr. Alejandro Junger that I will always sleep better if I don't snack between the evening meal and bedtime.
I wish Dr. Junger had written his book years ago - or that one of the many other authors I've read had mentioned it.
It's always possible that one of those guys did mention it, and I just missed it somehow.
Listen to Alejandro's words of wisdom:
If you do nothing more in your life than start to eat lighter in the evening and leave twelve hours between dinner one night and breakfast the next day, you will find that you have more energy and improve your overall health.
Here's another gem from Dr. Junger.
If your sheets or sleepwear contain a polyester-cotton mix, those materials can cause you problems. Dr. Junger says modern fabrics are often finished with a formaldehyde resin to make them crease resistant, waterproof, or shrink proof.
The result is you might be sleeping in a cloud of formaldehyde - or actually not sleeping as a result of insomnia.
Dr. Junger's book is Clean, which I discuss more completely on some of my nutrition pages.
This doctor may be the first medical doctor to tell us about the vital importance of detoxification, especially now with so many constant sources of toxins in foods, clothes, and the environment.
I've read and heard this message for years from non-medical folks such as Bernard Jensen - but Dr. Junger is the first M.D. I've come across who tells it like it is.