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Why Do Your Eyes Move During REM Sleep?

Sleep Research
Read Time: 2 minutes

When we are dreaming in the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of our sleep, our eyes move around vigorously. 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 and implants deep in their medial temporal lobes for treatment. This region of the brain deals with mental images not 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. The reason for REM sleep is still unknown, but processes that occur during this cycle have been shown to be vital for brain health.

Getting More Deep Sleep and Improving Sleep Quality

new mattress and sleep quality

REM sleep only occurs when we are in a very restful, or deep sleep. This part of the cycle is associated with many beneficial long-term health effects, including potentially staving off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In the short term, REM sleep helps you to feel rested and is the cycle most associated with sleep quality.

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.