We have entered Stage 4 of our 30 Days of Rest, the time for dreams, deep work, consolidation and integration.
What happens in Stage 4 of our sleep cycle?
Finally, we enter REM sleep, where things start to get even weirder. Our breathing becomes shallow and irregular, and our limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed. Our eyes begin to jerk in various directions. This is also the stage where the dreams we actually remember tend to take place.
REM sleep is very important, and the brain will often deploy “safety measures” to ensure it isn’t disrupted. For example, the sound of an alarm clock or phone may be incorporated into the dream and transformed into something else. A similar phenomenon is false awakening, in which the dreamer will dream that she is awake — a “dream within a dream.”
Psychologists and neuroscientists are not sure why the brain goes to such lengths in preserving REM sleep. Sigmund Freud famously claimed that the dreams we now associate with REM allow us to resolve unconscious urges we suppress when we’re awake. A more recent theory holds that these dreams reflect the new memories that are consolidated and integrated into the mind during earlier stages.
What are the therapeutic benefits of REM?
EMDR therapy is a type of therapy that employs the process of REM during waking hours for the purposes of transforming trauma.
Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings.
In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level. For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived it and I am strong.” Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes.
The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution—all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies.
In this stage of sleep we are not only dreaming, filtering and organizing information, we are also giving our minds and bodies an opportunity to find new meaning in the stories of our wounds.
This is going to be a fun week.
May you dream new dreams and find new meaning from your story.