Is REM Sleep Critical for Maintaining Emotional Health?
Good health and overall wellness of the body pertaining to all aspects, i.e., mental, physical and psychological, are desired by everybody. However, not all people take enough measures and precautions to make sure all the dimensions of wellness. Among these dimensions, one is our rapid eye movement (REM) sleep patterns.
Maintaining adequate sleep levels is a foundation of good health, along with good nutrition and regular exercise. Whether sleep is sacrificed for work or pleasure, the effects are quickly felt in the form of low energy and irritability. Studies suggest that a lack of sleep may contribute to mental health problems, specifically symptoms connected with anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and overall dimension of wellness.
Researchers say that cells stimulated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep play a critical role in the processing of emotional memory. While non-REM sleep is critical for physical health, playing an important part in the repairing of tissue and the bolstering of the immune system, among other repair and maintenance functions, rapid eye movement sleep is believed to be central to emotional and mental health and wellness.
Typically, dreaming occurs while in REM sleep, and the brain is more active when compared with non-REM sleep. REM sleep is also associated with sporadic changes in heart rate, respiration, and body temperature. In addition, rapid eye movement sleep activates the phasic pontine waves (P-waves) in the brain. The P-waves react to groups of cells that are associated with the neurotransmitter glutamate.
Also, REM sleep critical for recovery after a traumatic experience. The researchers base their work on the understanding that sleep plays a critical part in regulating emotions following a traumatic experience. When sleep problems are persistent, they are a predictor of anxiety disorders. One hallmark of anxiety disorders is the repeated experience of frightening memories that the individual cannot control.
The current preferred treatment for these fears is the use of exposure therapy, in which patients are coached through re-exposure to the frightening experience, with the goal of replacing the frightening memory with a different memory that competes with the frightening memory when that cue is re-encountered.
Adequate sleep is a prerequisite for the use of exposure therapy. Sleep on its own does not result in a successful treatment. Studies are aimed at determining which parts of the sleep cycle are critical in achieving success with exposure therapy. The researchers have used contextual fear extinction therapy to eliminate the conditioned fear so that the brain mechanisms could be measured for their role in exposure therapy. The findings of one study show that the introduction of fear-extinction training resulted in an increased level of rapid eye movement sleep. However, only 57% of the participants were able to retain the fear extinction past a 24-hour period. In the other 43% of participants, there was an absence of phasic P-wave activity, indicating that the fear-extinction memory was not retained, and they re-experienced the fear. The study’s findings highlight the critical role that the brain stem plays in the regulation of emotional memory.