Researcher at UCLA and Tel Aviv University believe they’ve discovered why the eyes do their eponymous movements during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. They believe it’s the brain flipping through images while you sleep, which may help us better understand the function and purpose of dreams.

Invasive Brain Monitoring

Close up of a man sleepingPart of the reason why it’s so hard to figure out the purpose of REM sleep is that there are few circumstances where we can gather good data about sleep. In the current study, the opportunity to grab data came from 19 epileptic patients who were soon to undergo brain surgery to remove parts of their brains associated with seizures. The patients required detailed brain monitoring in the form of electrodes inserted actually inside the brain for ten days before surgery could be performed. This allowed researchers to correlate brain activity information with the other data they had available.

Additional monitoring during sleep included scalp EEG, eye movement tracking, and muscle tone to identify periods of REM sleep.

Their brain monitoring activities were focused in the medial temporal lobe, a brain region that is responsible for processing of image-related memories. It’s an area that becomes active when we are shown a picture of a known celebrity like Kim Kardashian or a famous place like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Every time the eyes moved, this brain region became active, in a pattern very similar to when we are shown new images and have to interpret them. Researchers concluded that the eye movements are related to looking at different images in dreams, similar to looking at different parts of a large, multipanel frieze or flipping through a gallery of pictures.

Is Your REM Sleep Being Interrupted?

REM sleep is vital. In addition to the functions of dreams, REM sleep plays a role in metabolic control of the body’s functions and in regulating men’s sexual health. Without proper REM sleep, people can suffer significant health problems. Unfortunately, REM sleep is one of the first things lost to sleep apnea, and CPAP may be inadequate in restoring it.

If you are missing out on REM sleep and want a treatment that can help you get it back, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.