REM Sleep and Your Eyes – What’s Happening in There?

If a healthy lifestyle is important to you, then you probably pay attention to your diet, relationships, and physical exercise.

But how much importance do you place on a good night’s sleep? For most people, sleep is considered a luxury, not a necessity. Here’s the low-down on deep sleep, REM sleep, and how they effect the health of your eyes.

“You’re Getting Verrrry Sleeeeepy…”

Light receptors in the retina are responsible for the start of a chain reaction that either tells the brain to start the day or begin winding down, depending on how much light is captured in the eye. The signals reach the pineal gland which produces melatonin when the day’s light diminishes. Melatonin gives you a peaceful, drowsy feeling, and your eyelids may feel heavy just before sleep.

Cycle Back

There are 5 stages in a normal sleep cycle:

The first stage involves a series of chemical signals and a general slow-down. Your body is flipping the “off” switch, and cells are communicating with one another to change gears.

The second stage of sleep is marked by stillness of the eyes and slower brain waves.

The third and fourth stages of sleep are often combined to define “deep sleep.” The eyes do not move during deep sleep, nor do your muscles. Your brain however, is transmitting slow, long waves of electrical energy during this phase. It is most difficult to wake a person from deep sleep than any of the other stages in the sleep cycle.

REM, or “Rapid Eye Movement” sleep comes after deep sleep. The eyes move quickly, darting around while the rest of our muscles are inert. Breathing is shallow and more rapid. REM sleep is the fifth stage of the sleep cycle, and when most dreams take place. Contrary to popular belief, the rapid eye movement during this phase doesn’t mean the eyes are actually “seeing” a dream as though watching a motion picture. In fact, the eyes are actually moving independent of one another, according to a study done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. “The data argues against the idea that REMs actually “track” dream images,” said the report, “Unless each eye is watching its own dream!”

Why You Need Your Zzzzzz’s

Sleep deprivation compromises both the immune system and the nervous system. According to the National Institute of Health, good, solid deep sleep also supports the integrity of proteins responsible for cellular repair, keeping you resilient against toxins and intruders like ultraviolet rays.

You can also thank deep sleep for nerve-signaling patterns that encode memory and improve learning.

How Can We Make the Most of our Sleep?

Since complete sleep cycles are the only way to achieve the benefits mentioned, it’s imperative you get good sleep, just as it is that you take your multivitamin. So other than simply going to bed earlier, what can you do to achieve total deep sleep?

Neurotransmitter signals in the brain are responsible for making these stages a happy cyclical success. So if a chemical like caffeine interferes, a number of things could go awry. So avoid coffee, nicotine and decongestants if possible, and don’t exercise right before bed time.

Finally, limit alcohol. Drinking is believed to keep people from achieving deep sleep and REM sleep, so they perpetually waffle in and out of the lighter, less fulfilling sleep stages.

It may sound luxurious, but regular, solid sleep is a physiological need as crucial to our health as oxygen and water.

For questions or comments, contact Woodhams Eye Clinic.

Image Source: Flikr

Return to the Blog Home Page