A team of scientists has discovered that REM sleep is linked to fight-or-flight response defense mechanisms and could help fight disease.
A study presents a new perspective on why we sleep the way we do. There are still many unanswered questions about sleep. science knows that rest is one of the most basic functions for all animals, including humans, and plays an important role in keeping the organism healthy. Stages of sleep have been cataloged according to what the body and brain are doing during those stages. Scientists are still investigating this.
The human body is an inspiringly complex organic machine. In summary, the brain controls the voluntary and involuntary actions of the body through the nervous system. The nervous system is divided into two main regions, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The parasympathetic control functions are associated with “feed, rest, and reproduce” while the sympathetic controls direct “fight or flight” actions.
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A new study by scientists in China says they’ve finally figured out why REM sleep occurs. REM, short for Rapid Eye Movement, is where most dreams take place. But REM is part of a longer sleep cycle that includes non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages. The REM phases are believed to help the brain consolidate and process new information. But the lead author of the new study, Dr. Wang Liping, from the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says REM is associated with fight-or-flight actions.
How REM sleep studies can help cure many diseases
Photo via Biology Dictionary.
The fight or flight defense response is triggered when a person experiences a threatening or stressful situation. The adrenal glands release hormones such as adrenaline and norepinephrine. These cause, among other things, an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. The body does this to increase the flow of oxygen to the muscles to prepare them for fight or flight. During these events, which should last no longer than 20 minutes on average, pain thresholds drop and senses such as hearing and vision are sharpened to respond quickly. It’s as automatic as breathing.
The scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences put mice in sealed chambers to study the link between REM and fight-or-flight responses. They flooded the chambers with a strong odor of trimethylthiazoline (TMT), an instant cue to mice of the presence of a predator. The study showed that the animals woke up more easily when they sensed an attack during REM sleep than during NREM sleep. The team concluded that the reason sleep cycles switch from multiple NREM stages to multiple REM stages each night is because REMs act as a defense function during sleep.
Some actions that the body performs when awake, such as eye movements, hearing, and others, are present to a much greater extent in REM than in other sleep stages. The team examined a region of the brain and discovered that certain hormones and neuronal activity are produced during the REM phase to create faster fight-or-flight responses. The more threats are exposed to during sleep, the more REM cycles are generated. Stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), kidney, cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, and gastrointestinal disorders are just a few of a long list of conditions that can be caused by prolonged exposure to “fight or flight.” dr Yu-Ting Tseng, the main author of the scientific Study says they’ll continue to work on possible treatments for sleep disorders by targeting “the common feedback loop of sleep and anxiety.”
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Source: Neuron, Eureakalert
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