The Eye-Brain Connection: Why Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Matters  

We’ve all noticed rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, while a loved one rests. Their eyes dart around under their eyelids, and we may find ourselves wondering what they’re dreaming about. Here, we’ll take a look at why REM happens during sleep, and why it’s such an important part of getting a good night’s rest.

What is REM Sleep?

After you fall asleep at night, your brain cycles between non-REM and REM sleep. Both types of sleep are important for you to wake up feeling rested and ready to take on the day.

The first REM sleep cycle usually begins about an hour and a half after you fall asleep. REM sleep stages get longer as you sleep. The first REM sleep cycle only lasts for about ten minutes, while the final cycle lasts for about 60 minutes.

The Eyes and REM Sleep

Also known as paradoxical sleep, REM sleep causes the eyes and brain to act in a way similar to a waking state. During non-REM sleep, the eyes may move in the opposite direction from one another. During REM sleep, the eyes tend to “look” at the same area, just like they would in a fully awake state. The pupils of the eyes contract during REM sleep, despite no changes in light.

During REM sleep, the visual cortex of the brain is “awake,” just as it would be during an awake state. Sleep researchers believe that the eyes may be working to focus on an area “seen” in a dream, but more research needs to be done in this area. People who are blind experience REM sleep the same as people without visual disabilities.

Some researchers believe that REM sleep doesn’t actually correlate with dreaming, rather, the eye movements experienced during REM sleep have to do with the brain’s memory processing. Others believe that the eyes are “exercising” during this time, toning the muscles that are used to move the eyes during the day.

Sleep and Your Vision

For your eyes to function properly, it’s important that you get high-quality sleep most nights. Without proper sleep, it’s possible to experience dry eyes, eye spasms (twitching), and aesthetic issues like bags or dark circles under the eyes.

If you’re concerned about your eyes due to a lack of sleep or are wondering whether vision issues could have to do with your sleep, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your eye doctor. An eye care professional will be able to help you understand whether a lack of sleep is the root cause of your vision issues.