Skimping on sleep means we’re also missing out on the crucial dream stages of sleep.
If everyone is feeling a little grumpy, one reason is because Americans are getting a lot less sleep than we used to. According to a Gallup poll, we’re down more than a whole hour per night since the 1940s, from 7.9 hours on average to 6.8 hours per night. You’ve probably heard about some of the health concerns related to insufficient sleep, such as poor immune system, or even an extreme case: last week’s passing of an exhausted young reporter in Japan from karoshi, or death by overwork. But there is another, insidious problem, one explored in a new study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
According to the comprehensive review, conducted by Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., a lack of healthy dreaming has become a silent epidemic. Naiman, a sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, writes, “We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived.” A lack of REM/dream sleep can contribute to illness, depression and an erosion of consciousness, Naiman reports. “Many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from REM sleep deprivation.”
Typically, the body goes into deeper, non-REM sleep first, then, later into the night and early morning switches into REM sleep, which is when our mind creates dreams. Each phase of sleep is important and has a purpose. During REM sleep, the brain is doing functions imperative for learning and memory, and making neural connections.
Some of the reasons people aren’t getting enough REM sleep include lifestyle factors, such as simply not sleeping enough, but can also include things that disturb that phase of sleep, such as substance abuse, sleep disorders and medications, the study notes. If you’re not feeling rested, this study is a good reminder on why it’s important to have healthy sleep and dreaming, so you can restore your body and mind to their full potential.