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A new study has linked dreaming during Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM) to long-term cognitive health as we age.
REM sleep is one of five phases that the mammalian brain experiences during sleep. The other four phases are referred to as non-REM (NREM) sleep. These five phases occur in intervals throughout the night.
During REM, the brain is more active, so vivid dreams are common, the eyes move quickly in various directions, the breath and pulse are quicker, and the body has a slightly higher temperature.
Generally, the more often the brain is in REM sleep, the more restful the sleep. Much research has been done attempting to induce REM sleep, as it is thought to play a role in learning, memory, and mood.
To our misfortune, sleep quality, quantity, and dreaming often lessen as we get older, and the lack of dreaming in REM has been linked specifically to late-in-life cognitive concerns.
The study showed that when people experience less REM intervals during the night, the risk of cognitive and memory concerns with age increased by nine percent.
In the past, studies have only focused on the link between the quality and quantity of sleep with regard to age-related memory and cognitive function. This is the first study that suggests that the key to long-term cognitive health is dreaming while in REM.
The study revealed that other deep sleep patterns did not have a link to age-related cognitive function, but REM did. The researchers found that if REM sleep was experienced for more than 20 percent of the sleep duration, no age-related cognitive issues were detected. If that number fell below 17 percent of the sleep duration, concerns were found.
These findings were supported by an earlier study in which researchers intentionally blocked REM sleep in mice. The results showed an increased development of toxic build-up in the brain when this was done.
How Do We Boost REM Sleep?
REM sleep has been well-established as a circadian imbalance—in other words, a disconnection between nature’s light and dark cycles and human bio-rhythms. Lack of REM sleep has also been linked to imbalances in immunity, metabolism, and primary brain function.
If we address this as a circadian imbalance, boosting REM sleep is easier than we think! It is a matter of re-training our body to be synced with the natural light/dark cycles.
In one placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 14 adult outpatients with sleep concerns, all with more than a 25 percent reduction in normal REM sleep duration were studied. They were all given three milligrams of melatonin before bed. Across the board, the melatonin-supplemented group saw a significant boost in REM sleep when compared to the placebo group.
Hack the Aging Process of Your Brain:
The science is clear that, as we age, we begin to produce less and less melatonin and, therefore, we tend to experience less REM sleep.
To ensure your crucial link to the light/dark cycles, make sure you know what your melatonin levels are. You can get them tested with a simple at-home urine test.
With this test kit, you receive a recommendation from Dr. John to help balance circadian-melatonin rhythms.
If you are over the age of 50, consider melatonin supplementation before bed to boost REM sleep. Studiessuggest three milligrams of melatonin taken 20 minutes before bed.
Author: Dr. John Douillard Image: Terry Presley/Flickr; Wikimedia Commons Editor: Emily Bartran Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman Social Editor: Waylon Lewis