In hypnotherapy, one of the most engaging systems, processes and phenomena in the human brain is REM (or Rapid Eye Movement). This is the stage of sleep where we dream and process information. Similar to this and, also running concurrently, is another stage called NREM. NREM is a very similar sleep process; although it tends to not involve the imaginative visual theatre of dreaming that we associate with true REM.
When we are awake our brains act like a video recorder. It is recording information from our five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. These memories are stored in the hippocampus region in the form of short term memories. In order for us to update our behaviours, during sleep, they must be moved to the cortex area which has substantially more capacity for organising, prioritising and storing this information. All the time the information remains in the hippocampus it is fragile and susceptible to being replaced my new, more important information.
During the NREM stages of our sleep our brains are doing what can be described as a clear out. Organising our already existing files to make room for the updated files that have been recorded during the day. During the REM stage, our brains incorporate the new information learnt that day (whilst in conscious recording mode) and we link this new information to already existing models in our brains. Therefore, we have a viewpoint on the world which is adjusted and refined every night during those precious hours of sleep.
Think of it using this metaphor. During the day we go to the shops and buy lots of new things. When we go to sleep at night our NREM stage of sleep rearranges the items we already have in our bedrooms to make room for the new purchases and the REM stage incorporates these new purchases into our, now tidy, bedrooms. If we don’t do this process every night, our bedrooms will just keep on getting messier and messier.
A good sleep is considered to be between 7-9 hours. Any less and we are in sleep deprivation which, scientists believe, is as damaging to our bodies as a day of junk food and no exercise.
Interestingly, a healthy sleep should consist of 5 cycles (of around 90 minutes each in length). Each cycle should be composed of light sleep, deep sleep, REM and NREM forms of sleep. NREM (the clearing out of file systems) seems to be generous in the first few cycles and less prevalent in the latter cycles of sleep and REM appears to do the opposite.
This becomes very problematic if you are getting under seven hours of sleep a night because the last cycles of sleep (in the 7th and 8th hour) are rich in the information processing power of REM. This is when our minds process stress, enhance creativity, problem solve and prioritise the learning of our brains.
When people say that they ‘don’t need more than five hours sleep a night’ they are only fooling themselves. Yes we can function, hold down jobs and interact but the learning and stress management systems are dramatically impaired. There is now a wealth of evidence linking the loss of the REM rich stages of sleep to many neurological disorders such as memory loss, depression, anxiety and anger. Moreover, this starvation can often lead the hippocampus to come up with coping strategies for the stress caused by our ‘messy bedrooms’ such as weight gain, addictions, obsessions, compulsions and paranoia.
One of the simple functions of hypnotherapy is this – we create a trance like state similar to REM, firing up the imagination and processing the information which is lost by the lack of eight hours sleep.
It always frustrates me when people tell me that they either ‘believe’ or ‘don’t believe’ in hypnotherapy. It isn’t a religion… It’s neuroscience.