Thursday, July 25, 2013

REM (Really Enjoy My) Sleep

Now here is something that I never considered when I started the Sealy Sleep Ambassador campaign.
Of course, I’d heard about REM (rapid eye movement) sleep before and have read reports of how not getting enough can have serious consequences on my health. What I didn’t know was that I just haven’t been experiencing it often enough over recent years.

I sort of just thought that it was a fact of getting older that I don’t remember my dreams like I did when I was a child. Furthermore, I thought that because I survive with a minimal number hours of sleep every night, the number of sleep ‘cycles’ are less – therefore also reducing my ability to remember my dreams.

Little did I expect that even the very first time I slept on our new Sealy mattress, I would wake mid way through one of the most lucid dreams I’ve ever had in my life. It was quite bizarre, but at the same time extremely refreshing.

This prompted me to do a little research online – could just changing to a new mattress cause lucid dreams?

The answer is unequivocally ‘YES’!!

Firstly, and to state the obvious, a few hours of sleep is just not enough for anyone. There are genetic reasons why some individuals require less sleep, but not just a few hours a night. My habit (for a long time) has been to work like a trooper on weekdays and then ‘binge’ sleep on Saturday mornings (sometimes Friday night’s sleep would last as long as 12+ hours) – this is obviously unacceptable and I don’t do it anymore because it takes away quality time from my family and shortens the weekend by a quarter.

The amount of sleep required definitely differs from person to person, but as a rough guide, experts have come up with the following chart based on age:

With the number of hours sleep come a direct correlation with the number of ‘sleep cycles’ – for example a newborn baby will have up to 12 sleep cycles, while the average adult will experience just 4 or 5. The more sleep cycles, the longer the duration of REM sleep and lucid, memorable dreams will become more common.

So therein lies my first problem – not enough sleep = not enough sleep cycles = not enough REM sleep = shorter and less memorable dreams.

But that doesn’t explain that when I was ‘binge’ sleeping – up to 12-hours+, why was I still not having lucid dreams (that I could remember)? Nor does it explain why the very first time I had a nap on my new Sealy mattress (2-hours duration) that I had probably the most vivid and real dream that I can remember in my lifetime.

The secondary research solved it for me.

I’ve mentioned before about the lower back pain that I have experienced over a number of years due to degenerative damage to my lower spine from years of football and martial arts. Although I had experienced some level of improvement in the way I felt each morning and seemed to be achieving more continuous sleep through just sleeping on a hard surface, I was missing out on the crucial cycles required to achieve prolonged periods of REM sleep.

This was also a very vicious cycle – I have discovered that even mild pain can disrupt the sleep cycles, and there are good data to suggest that not enough REM sleep makes the pain worse!!

According to Gilles Lavigne, DDS, MSc, FRCD, “Severe pain can make you bolt upright from a sound sleep. But even milder pain can cause "microarousals”. These are periods when your pain breaks through and bumps you back into the light sleep stage. You may not become conscious, and the next day you won't remember waking up. But your fragmented sleep can leave you feeling like you didn't get any rest at all”

The subjective intensity of pain decreases when a person is well rested. Insufficient REM sleep can cause “hyperalgesia”- increased sensitivity to pain.

Therefore, it doesn’t take much to put two and two together… the mattress I chose was with my back support in mind. I’ve mentioned before about the Sealy technologies and patents, and used terms such as “Posture Channels” and “Pressure Relief Inlays”… all I know is that I can dream again!!

Since that very first nap the Sunday before last, I continue to dream every time I sleep… I continue to remember much about my dreams, and even more – when I wake from a dream to use the bathroom and go back to sleep, the dreams just continue immediately – this is a sure sign of high quality REM sleep.

It is also well known that REM sleep is important to healthy brain functioning for many reasons, including the creation of long-term memories… and I just blamed the excesses of the 80s for my poor memory ;)

For me, REM Sleep is no longer an acronym for ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ Sleep… it now stands for ‘Really Enjoy My’ Sleep!!

One other important piece of trivia that I’ve picked up, is that “in today’s performance-obsessed society, people often cite Napoleon, Louis XIV, and Churchill as examples of high achievers who supposedly slept only a few hours each night. But curiously, people fail to mention all the other high achievers who, like Einstein, needed 10 and sometimes even 12 hours of sleep per night!”

Finally – now that I am getting some seriously high quality REM sleep, I will be closely monitoring my blood pressure over coming weeks. Taken from Knutson et al. Association Between Sleep and Blood Pressure in Midlife: The CARDIA Sleep Study.:

“Reduced sleep duration and quality are associated with elevated blood pressure, according to researchers with the CARDIA study. They used wrist activity monitors to monitor associations between sleep behaviors and BP among more than 500 adults in their 30s and 40s, finding that shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep maintenance were each associated with increased systolic and diastolic BP. The authors say the sleep-BP link is supported by previous research and “laboratory evidence of increased sympathetic nervous activity as a likely mechanism underlying the increase in BP after sleep loss.”

Areas of the brain active during REM sleep dreaming (pretty amazing - I know some people who use less of their brain while they are awake):

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