Have you ever noticed how much our eyes move back and forth while we sleep? Researchers may have discovered the reason for this.
According to a recent study by academics at the University of California, San Francisco, we move our eyes quickly while we sleep because we are seeing things in our dream world.
According to a press release issued by the university on Thursday, the study’s findings offer insight into how our dreams and imagination work.
Resolving the mystery of REM sleep
Since the 1950s, the period of sleep during which dreams take place has been known as REM sleep, or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. But ever since, there has been much mystery and discuss since then the reaon behind these movements.
“We showed that these eye movements aren’t random. They are coordinated with what is occurring in the mouse’s virtual dream world, according to senior author of the study Massimo Scanziani, a professor of physiology at the University of California.
“This work gives us a glimpse into the ongoing cognitive processes in the sleeping brain while also solving a puzzle that has piqued the interest of scientists for decades.”
Examining “head direction” cells in mice brains
In the latter half of the 20th century, some scientists proposed the theory that rapid eye movements might be triggered by images from dreams, but there were few ways to test it and inconsistent results came from the experiments. Numerous studies have dismissed REM movements as idly occurring activities that might be done to keep the eyelids lubricated.
Scanziani and Yuta Senzai, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UCSF, were able to examine “head direction” cells in the brains of mice, another species that experiences REM sleep, thanks to the much more sophisticated technology we have today.
Researchers monitored the mouse’s eye movements and gathered information from these cells about the mouse’s eye’s heading. The team found that by comparing them, the mouse’s internal compass and eye movements during REM sleep were precisely in line with each other, just as they are when the mouse is awake and moving around.
The study’s results demonstrate that the same brain regions, of which there are many, coordinate when we are awake and when we are dreaming, supporting the idea that dreams are a way of integrating information acquired during the day.
Understanding how the brain modifies itself based on accumulated experiences is crucial, according to Scanziani. We can gain insight into how those experiences become a part of our individual models of what the world is like and how it works by understanding the mechanisms that allow us to coordinate so many different brain regions while we sleep.
The next steps for the researchers involve figuring out what makes the internal compass of the brain move during REM sleep, how it moves in tandem with the eyes, and how a variety of senses interact to produce a realistic dream experience.
The results of the study were published in Science journal.