JUL 07, 2015 8:37 AM PDT

REM Sleep, Memories and Drugs

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider

The phrase, "dreams are made for children," might have taken on new meaning, based on a study at Washington State University Spokane. The study, published in Science Advances and reported in Medical News Today, says that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep - where dreams take place -- "actively converts waking experiences into lasting memories and abilities in young brains...and calls into question the increasing use of REM-disrupting medications and antidepressants" (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/296333.php).
Children need to dream to cement their memories.
REM, one of the five stages of sleep that most people experience nightly, entails quick, random movements of the eyes and paralysis of the muscles. Time spent in REM sleep varies with age, normally making up about 20 to 25 percent of an adult human's total time spent asleep (90 to 120 minutes) and more than half of an infant's (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247927.php).

While scientists have known that infant animals spend much of their early life in REM sleep, little was understood about the mechanics of REM's ability to change or recombine memories, according to Professor of Medical Sciences Marcos Frank. In the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Frank and his team documented the effects of sleep on vision development in young animals. They discovered that brain circuits change in the visual cortex when animals explore their environment, but that REM sleep is needed to make those changes "stick." The changes are cemented by ERK, an enzyme triggered only during REM sleep.

According to Frank, "REM sleep acts like the chemical developer in old-fashioned photography to make traces of experience more permanent and focused in the brain. Experience is fragile. These traces tend to vanish without REM sleep and the brain basically forgets what it saw."

Young brains, says Frank, "go through critical periods of plasticity" -- or remodeling - at which time vision, speech, language, motor skills, social skills and other higher cognitive functions develop. During these periods, REM sleep helps growing brains to adjust their neuronal connections to match the input received from their environment.

According to Frank, brain activity patterns occurring in REM sleep are similar to those when awake, "as if the neurons were dreaming of their waking experience. Until now, there has not been strong evidence to show that waking experience reappears during REM sleep." He believes that "REM sleep may be important for the development of other parts of the brain beyond the visual cortex and its effects may continue throughout a lifetime."

Frank thinks that the study "has big implications for our understanding of sleep in children." Not only does the amount of sleep a child gets affect his or her ability to do well in school, but the specific amount of sleep changes over time. In addition, he is concerned about what Ritalin for attention deficit disorder, antidepressants and other drugs are doing to developing brains in both the short and long term. He concluded, "Almost all of these compounds can potentially suppress sleep and REM sleep in particular. REM sleep is very fragile -- it can be inhibited by drugs very easily."

About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
AUG 24, 2020
Neuroscience
Researchers Crowdfund $30 Million for Psychedelic Therapy for PTSD
AUG 24, 2020
Researchers Crowdfund $30 Million for Psychedelic Therapy for PTSD
In a historic feat, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has raised $30 million to complete ...
AUG 25, 2020
Neuroscience
Fear of Germs Leading Factor in COVID-19 Preventative Behavior
AUG 25, 2020
Fear of Germs Leading Factor in COVID-19 Preventative Behavior
Researchers from the University of Connecticut have found that people with a psychological aversion to germs are more li ...
OCT 21, 2020
Immunology
CNS's immune cells - Microglia are involved in the exacerbation of MS
OCT 21, 2020
CNS's immune cells - Microglia are involved in the exacerbation of MS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most progressive autoimmune diseases that affect the central nervous system where ...
NOV 01, 2020
Microbiology
SARS-CoV-2 Disrupts the Blood Brain Barrier
NOV 01, 2020
SARS-CoV-2 Disrupts the Blood Brain Barrier
SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 has to get into cells to cause infection. It does so with a spike protein on its surfa ...
NOV 15, 2020
Neuroscience
Hearing Test Can Predict Autism in Newborns
NOV 15, 2020
Hearing Test Can Predict Autism in Newborns
For some time now, researchers have been aware that children and adults with autism tend to have different sensory syste ...
NOV 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Find Human Brain Shares Structure with Universe
NOV 17, 2020
Researchers Find Human Brain Shares Structure with Universe
Astrophysicist Franco Vazza from the University of Bologna, and Alberto Felett, a neurosurgeon at the University of Vero ...
Loading Comments...