Healthy Living

How Sleep Apnea Leads to a Lack of REM Sleep

How Sleep Apnea Leads to a Lack of REM Sleep

REM stands for rapid eye movement, and it is a phase during the sleep cycle characterized by rapid movement of the eye beneath the eyelids, lowered muscle tone throughout the body, vivid dreams, and an increase of respiration and heart rate though in an irregular rhythm. During sleep, the brain goes through five distinctive phases, and the first four phases are collectively referred to as non-REM. REM and non-REM alternate in a sleep cycle, which takes about 90 minutes with REM occupying about 25% of the sleep cycle.[1]

A myriad of important activities such as balancing moods, learning, storing brain chemistry to a normal balance, forming new memories, and stimulating the central nervous system happen during this phase. The exact mechanism of how this activity takes place is still under study, but what is known about REM sleep is that it is very crucial in the human body. Loss of REM sleep can also be known as sleep deprivation which may result in some fatal consequences. However, one such disorder that impacts this loss of REM sleep is obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by a person experiencing pauses while breathing or a period of shallow breaths. This may happen repeatedly during sleep with each pause lasting a few seconds. A person with this illness recurrently transits from deep to light sleep as breathing becomes shallow. This results in poor sleep, as well as the brain and the rest of the body not receiving enough oxygen.

Sleep Apnea and REM Sleep

It doesn't come as a surprise that people suffering from sleep apnea are definitely at a loss of REM sleep. Sleep apnea leads into sleep being distured as the patients are repetitively awakened, pulling them from the much-needed stages of REM sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs exclusively during REM sleep.

REM-related sleep apnea occurs commonly in young adults, women, children, and a patient suffering from moderate obstructive sleep apnea. This means a person can also suffer other related illnesses as result of sleep deprivation.

Risk factors for sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is more prevalent in men than in women, and men are twice as likely to suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea may occur at any age, but it’s more significant to people of 40 years and above. [2]

Half of the people living with this condition are overweight, and being overweight makes a person four times as likely to suffer from sleep apnea as compared to those of normal weight. Your family background also matters as researchers have found that a family history of sleep apnea can also be a risk factor.

It is advisable to regulate the alcohol intake and to minimize the use of tranquilizers and sedatives in order to decrease the risk of sleep apnea as these drugs are known to relax the throat muscles. Smoking can also increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway, which increases the chances of obstructive apnea.