We may receive financial compensation for products purchased through links on this website. sleepjunkie.com is owned by Healthy Sleep, LLC and includes Amerisleep, LLC advertising. Learn more.

Why Do Your Eyes Move During REM Sleep?

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Jing Zhang is a prominent figure in the realm of sleep research, specializing in the intricate connection between sleep and memory. With an extensive research tenure exceeding 7 years, she delves into the neural underpinnings of these processes. Currently, as a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, she unravels the enigma of memory […]

Sleep Research
Read Time: 3 minutes
  • Recent research suggests that the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of sleep is associated with the brain forming new mental images each time the eyes move, although the exact purpose of REM sleep remains unknown.
  • Deep sleep, particularly during REM cycles, is crucial for brain health and is linked to long-term cognitive benefits such as potentially preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as improving overall sleep quality.
  • Investing in better sleep quality, such as through getting a new mattress, can significantly improve the amount of deep sleep you get, potentially leading to numerous health benefits and better overall well-being.

When we are dreaming in the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of our sleep, our eyes move around vigorously just like the name suggests. The reason they do this has been elusive, but a recent study has shed some light on a phenomenon that we have been puzzled by for some time.

As we sleep, we cycle between REM sleep and non-REM sleep. Dreaming tends to occur in our deeper, REM sleep. While this rapid eye movement has long been associated with dreaming, the reason for the movement has been unclear. This recent study, published in the journal Nature Communications may have the answer.

Scanning the Unscannable in Deep Sleep

The researchers worked with volunteers who have epilepsy with implants deep in their medial temporal lobes for treatment. This region of the brain deals with mental images instead of actual vision. The electrodes allowed the researchers to record nearly 40 neurons’ activities as the subjects slept. When they did, they noticed that activity increased a quarter of a second after the subject’s eyes flickered.

This discovery led researchers to believe the brain is switching to different mental imagery when the eyes move. Each time we move our eyes the brain forms a new mental image.

Sleep expert Dr. Jing Zhang adds that REM sleep is the sleep stage where dreams are most often reported, so it is possible that the mental imagery associated with eye movement reflects dreams.

The reason for REM sleep is still unknown, but processes that occur during this cycle have been shown to be vital for brain health, creativity, and emotion regulation.

Getting More Deep Sleep and Improving Sleep Quality

new mattress and sleep quality

REM sleep typically occurs cyclically throughout the night, roughly every 90 to 110 minutes, and it becomes more frequent as the night progresses. The first REM cycle usually begins about 90 minutes after falling asleep and lasts for about 10 minutes, with each subsequent REM stage becoming longer.

According to Dr. Jing Zhang, this part of the cycle is associated with many long-term health benefits, including potentially staving off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease by facilitating certain types of memories and regulating cortisol and growth hormones. In the short term, REM sleep helps you to regulate emotions and boosts your creativity.

Getting more deep sleep is paramount for a health brain and body. There are many things you can do to improve your quality of sleep. An Oklahoma State University study showed that just getting a new mattress is likely improve your sleep quality.

If you decide to invest in your sleep with a new mattress, we recently reviewed mattresses on their effectiveness at improving back pain and sleep quality. We found that memory foam beds like those from Amerisleep have solid ratings from customers and independent reviewers.

We are learning more and more about sleep every year. One thing that will never change is that we need good, deep sleep for many reasons. Become proactive in your sleep health and you will be rewarded greatly with better health.

David Klose is a Certified Sleep Science Coach who is a full-time writer focused on sleep health and the mattress industry. David has personally tested hundreds of mattresses and is obsessed with helping others find their perfect sleep solution.

Through his research, David has learned about other contributing factors to getting a good night’s sleep – such as diet and exercise. He now focuses on writing articles to help improve the reader’s quality of life.

A non-exhaustive list of some of the topics he has written on: the causes of sleepwalking, the sleep habits of high school students, and the relationship between a good night’s sleep and living a successful life.

David Klose has his undergraduate degree from Arizona State University where he studied English Literature and interned as the Student Editor-in-Chief of the university’s online literary magazine. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in writing from Lesley University.