Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a normal stage of sleep characterized by rapid movements of the eyes. REM sleep is classified into two categories: tonic and phasic. It was identified and defined by Kleitman and Aserinsky in the early 1950s.
Criteria for REM sleep includes not only rapid eye movements, but also low muscle tone and a rapid, low voltage EEG -- these features are easily discernible in a polysomnogram, the sleep study typically done for patients with suspected sleep disorders.
REM sleep in adult humans typically occupies 20-25% of total sleep, about 90-120 minutes of a night's sleep. During a normal night of sleep, humans usually experience about 4 or 5 periods of REM sleep; they are quite short at the beginning of the night and longer toward the end. Many animals and some people tend to wake, or experience a period of very light sleep, for a short time immediately after a bout of REM. The relative amount of REM sleep varies considerably with age. A newborn baby spends more than 80% of total sleep time in REM. During REM, the activity of the brain's neurons is quite similar to that during waking hours; for this reason, the sleep stage may be called paradoxical sleep. This means that there are no dominating brain waves during REM sleep.
REM sleep is physiologically different from the other phases of sleep, which are collectively referred to as non-REM sleep (NREM). Vividly recalled dreams mostly occur during REM sleep.
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