Science of Sleep and Dreams

In News by Justin Welton

Sleep is a normal biological process that allows the brain and body to rest and renew. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night, which is typically broken down into 4-5 “sleep cycles” comprised of distinct stages, each with its own unique characteristics and functions. In this article, we will discuss sleep, dreaming, and the best ways you can ensure quality restorative sleep and dreams. We’ll explore sleep stages, why and how we dream, what happens if we can’t sleep or dream, how to fix deficiencies, and how exactly PERQUE® and LRA by ELISA/ACT® testing and treatment plans can support restorative sleep.

Stages of Sleep

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep consists of three stages:

Stage 1 is the transition from wakefulness to sleep. The hormone melatonin, which is released by the pineal gland in response to darkness, rises in the evening and helps signal the body that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin promotes sleep onset and initiates the transition into the first stage of sleep. Decreased levels of wake-promoting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, along with increased levels of sleep-promoting neurotransmitters such as GABA, contribute to feelings of relaxation and drowsiness.

During this stage, you may experience drifting in and out of consciousness, muscle relaxation, and slowed eye movements. It typically lasts for only a few minutes, and accounts for less than 5% of the time spent sleeping.

During Stage 2, your body temperature and heart rate decrease, and your brain waves become slower with occasional bursts of rapid brain activity known as sleep spindles. Stage 2 sleep makes up a significant portion (around 45%) of total sleep time.

Stage 3 is also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS) or deep sleep. It is characterized by slow brain waves known as delta waves. Muscle activity decreases, and it becomes increasingly difficult to awaken someone from this stage. This stage is crucial for physical restoration and recovery, including injury repair and immune system reinforcement.

During NREM sleep, neurotransmitter levels fluctuate to promote different aspects of sleep, including relaxation, memory consolidation, and physical restoration.

GABAergic neurons in the brainstem and thalamus become increasingly active during NREM sleep, inhibiting wake-promoting neurons and reducing sensory input to the cortex. This helps maintain sleep continuity and depth throughout the night.

Rapid-Eye Movement Sleep (REM) sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements, increased brain activity, and vivid dreaming. Muscles become temporarily paralyzed during REM sleep, except for those involved in essential functions like breathing and eye movements. REM sleep is thought to be important for cognitive function, emotional processing, and memory consolidation.

REM sleep is the stage of sleep during which most dreaming occurs. The chemistry of REM sleep, characterized by increased cholinergic activity and reduced GABAergic inhibition, creates a highly activated state of the brain conducive to vivid and emotionally intense dreaming.

Serotonin levels continue to decline during REM sleep, allowing for the expression of dream content without the constraints of waking reality.

Throughout the night, the sleep cycle progresses through these stages multiple times, with each cycle lasting approximately 90 to 120 minutes. REM sleep stages become progressively longer as the night goes on, while deep sleep stages tend to occur earlier in the night.

When do we Dream?

Dreams can occur during both REM sleep and non-REM sleep, although they are typically more vivid and memorable during REM sleep. REM sleep is often referred to as “dream sleep” due to the heightened brain activity and muscle atonia characteristic of this stage, allowing for immersive and emotionally intense dream experiences.

Why do we Dream?

The function of dreams is a topic that has fascinated scientists, psychologists, and philosophers for centuries. While there is no single universally accepted theory, there are several hypotheses that have been considered:

Memory Consolidation: One widely accepted theory suggests that dreams play a crucial role in consolidating and processing memories. During sleep, especially during REM sleep, the brain processes and organizes information gathered throughout the day, integrating it into existing knowledge networks. Dreams may serve as a mechanism for encoding and storing memories, helping to strengthen neural connections and facilitate learning.

Emotional Processing: Dreams often contain emotional content, reflecting our innermost thoughts, fears, desires, and conflicts. Some researchers propose that dreams provide a safe space for emotional processing, allowing individuals to explore and express suppressed emotions, unresolved issues, and unconscious desires.

Problem-Solving and Creativity: Dreams have been known to inspire creativity and problem-solving, offering novel solutions to complex problems and stimulating innovative thinking. During REM sleep, when brain activity is heightened and dreams are most vivid, the brain may engage in associative processing, making connections between disparate ideas and generating creative insights.

Biological Maintenance: While the primary functions of dreams are thought to be psychological and cognitive, dreams may also serve important physiological roles. During REM sleep, the brain regulates various bodily functions, including temperature, hormone production, and immune function.

Overall, the function of dreams remains a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that continues to intrigue researchers and theorists alike.

How do we Dream?

The process of dreaming is complex and not fully understood, but it involves a combination of physiological, neurological, and psychological factors. During REM sleep, the brain becomes highly active, resembling wakefulness in many ways, while the body experiences muscle atonia (temporary paralysis), preventing individuals from acting out their dreams. The activation of specific brain regions, such as the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, is thought to contribute to the generation of dream content, including emotions, memories, and sensory experiences. Neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, serotonin, and dopamine also play crucial roles in regulating brain activity during REM sleep and influencing dream content. Additionally, external factors such as stress, emotions, and daily experiences may influence dream content and intensity.

What Happens if We Can’t Dream?

If you don’t get enough REM sleep, or have reduced dream activity, several consequences can arise. REM sleep is essential for various cognitive functions, emotional regulation, and memory consolidation. Without adequate REM sleep, you may experience cognitive impairment, including difficulties with concentration, problem-solving, and decision-making. Emotionally, insufficient REM sleep can lead to mood disturbances, increased irritability, and heightened emotional reactivity. REM sleep also plays a crucial role in memory consolidation, particularly for emotional and procedural memories, so a lack of REM sleep may impair learning and memory retention. Additionally, deprivation of REM sleep can result in disruptions in dream patterns and increased susceptibility to nightmares.

What Happens if We Can’t Sleep?

Not getting enough deep sleep can also have several detrimental effects on your physical and cognitive health. Deep sleep is essential for bodily restoration and repair, including muscle growth, tissue repair, and immune function. Without enough deep sleep, you may experience increased fatigue, reduced energy levels, and impaired physical performance. Deep sleep is also crucial for memory consolidation, particularly for declarative memories and information processing. Insufficient deep sleep can lead to difficulties with memory retention, learning, and cognitive function, including problems with concentration, attention, and problem-solving. Furthermore, deep sleep is associated with hormonal regulation, including the release of growth hormone, which is essential for growth and development, as well as metabolic regulation. Lack of deep sleep may disrupt hormonal balance and contribute to metabolic imbalances, such as weight gain and insulin resistance. Overall, the absence of adequate deep sleep can have profound effects on physical health, cognitive function, and overall well-being.

Sleep Disorders and insomnia

It’s clearly important that we get enough restorative sleep. However as we age, melatonin levels tend to decrease, contributing to changes in sleep patterns such as difficulty falling asleep, waking up earlier in the morning, and experiencing lighter or more fragmented sleep. This age-related decline in melatonin production is thought to be due to changes in the pineal gland and alterations in the regulation of melatonin synthesis. The depletion of essential cofactors necessary for melatonin production may also contribute.

Fixing the Deficiencies and Supporting Restorative Sleep

We recommend eating well and staying hydrated to support overall health, as well as incorporating mindfulness and movement into your routine. In addition, we recommend LRA testing to remove any hidden immune burdens to allow your brain and body to function as they should.

To support restorative sleep, we recommend setting a sleep schedule, creating a bedtime routine that includes a salt and soda bath, abdominal breathing with relaxation and/or meditation, using green dichroic light, avoiding bright lights and screens, and avoiding caffeine after noon. Additional tips can be found here. Finally, you can support your sleep with herbal teas, either individually or try multiple sleep-promoting ingredients in a single recipe.

Should you still be struggling with falling asleep or staying asleep, we recommend adding dietary supplements to your evening routine.

We recommend avoiding melatonin supplements, however, since as a hormone it may have some unanticipated effects. It can cause daytime drowsiness and disrupt circadian rhythms if taken at the wrong time or dose. Long-term use can lead to tolerance and dependence, where higher doses are needed to induce sleep, and withdrawal symptoms can be present if the supplement is discontinued. Melatonin can also interact with certain medications, and it may not be equally effective for everyone.

Instead, we recommend choosing a supplement that boosts melatonin levels naturally. L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that enhances NATURAL melatonin production. It’s the precursor to both serotonin and melatonin, so it improves mood balance and relaxation. It stabilizes circadian rhythms, increases delta wave deep sleep, and it provides a more restful restorative sleep with no grogginess or brain fog upon awakening. We prefer using the starting amino acid tryptophan over the popular 5-HTP because of its more subtle and sustained benefit,   its use in other valuable biochemical pathways, and it being a more natural and safe solution.

Tryptophan supplementation may promote REM sleep by increasing serotonin levels, as serotonin plays a role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. As a result, individuals taking tryptophan supplements may experience longer or more frequent periods of REM sleep, potentially leading to more opportunities for dreaming.

PERQUE Sleep Guard uses only the highest-quality, pharmaceutical-grade L- tryptophan, plus key transport enhancer nutrients, for the most effective results.* This supplement supports healthy sleep-wake cycles and REM sleep, and may improve the quality of REM sleep, leading to more vivid and memorable dreams.

Mood and sleep are closely aligned.

Glycine is a non-essential amino acid that serves as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, where it plays a role in regulating mood, sleep patterns, relaxation, and muscle tone.

Research suggests that glycine supplementation may have beneficial effects on sleep quality, particularly by promoting deeper and more restful sleep. Some studies have found that glycine supplementation before bedtime can improve subjective measures of sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. It may also have neuroprotective propertiesthat support overall brain health and function.

The amino acid l-methionine helps detoxify excito-neurotoxins, allowing the brain to relax into sleep. Magnesium is required for nerve transmission and maintaining normal mood levels. PERQUE Mood Guard™ contains glycine combined with l-methionine and magnesium to support mental and emotional health and sleep regulation. *

Finally, once you are consistently experiencing restful, restorative sleep, you may want to work to enhance dream recall. Incorporating techniques such as dream journaling, setting dream intentions, and practicing mindfulness can improve recall and enhance self-awareness. By understanding the factors that influence dreaming, we can harness the power of dreams for personal growth and psychological healing. 


*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Justin Welton
Author: Justin Welton