It is a norm for all of us to have dreams for as long as 2 hours or more each night. Still now the science community doesn’t know much about how or why we dream. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who made significant impact on the field of psychology and psychiatry, stated that dreaming was our projection into unconscious desires. In mid fifties sleep researchers for the first time observed REM in sleeping babies. Investigating reaction in adults, soon enough they realized that the mostly illogical experiences in dreams almost always coincide with Rapid Eye Movement sleep. They also discovered that while most mammals and birds demonstrate patterns of REM sleep, reptiles and similar animals do not.
The present state of the science of sleep reveals the following:
REM sleep is originated by signals coming from a region at the base of the brain called the Pons.
These signals are travelling to a brain area called the thalamus.
Thalamus transmit those signals to cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain.
This outer layer of the brain is responsible for our learning ability, logical thinking, and information processing.
The Pons are responsible for shutting off neurons in the spinal cord, causing intermittent limb muscle paralysis
The return from this paralysis results in a very famous sleep disorder, called Restless Legs Syndrome that will be discussed later.
If something is interfering with this paralysis, people can develop another dangerous problem, called Rapid Eye Movement behavior disorder. Here is example of this type of disorder: let’s say, someone is dreaming about a ball game, volleyball, basketball, or tennis for that matter. He might run headlong into surrounding furniture or even strike someone sleeping nearby while trying to catch a ball in the dream without even opening his eyes.
It has been observed that REM sleep stimulates the area in the brain responsible for learning. Now we understand why infants spent most of their bedtime in Rapid Eye Movement due to the importance for brain development. That is why they infants require the REM sleep more than adults. It is also noticed that REM sleep responsible for accelerated production of proteins.
A study on university students shows that REM sleep affects mastering of certain mental skills. If a person leaned a any specific mental skill and then he or he had been deprived of a non-REM sleep then they would be able to recall what they had learned after they had been awakened. At the same time, other control group being deprived of Rapid Eye Movement , could not recall those skills.
The modern scientific understanding of the REM sleep phenomena, being accepted by many researches, is formulated by the following hypothesis:
The cerebral cortex attempts to add some logical meaning to thousands of random images that are created during REM sleep. It tries interpreting and organizing information, recorded in our “chemical” memory of neurons being collected from our surrounding during the awakening stage. Now we can explain why those random signals from the Pons during REM sleep are converted into different “stories” by the cortex, who tries interpreting those signals by creating something logical out of fragmented brain activity.
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