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Question:

I know that experiments have been conducted to determine the importance of R.E.M. sleep in our sleep cycle. It is particularly important for learning, information synthesis, and recovery from distress. Why else is R.E.M. sleep important? What experiments have been done/observations been made to determine the neurological mechanisms underlying R.E.M. sleep? I know that we exhibit high frequency $\alpha$ waves, similar to the waves we experience during wakefulness.

Wiki:

During REM sleep, high levels of acetylcholine in the hippocampus suppress feedback from hippocampus to the neocortex, and lower levels of acetylcholine and norepinephrine in the neocortex encourage the spread of associational activity within neocortical areas without control from the hippocampus. This is in contrast to waking consciousness, where higher levels of norepinephrine and acetylcholine inhibit recurrent connections in the neocortex. REM sleep through this process adds creativity by allowing "neocortical structures to reorganise associative hierarchies, in which information from the hippocampus would be reinterpreted in relation to previous semantic representations or nodes.

Do these reorganized neocortical hierarchies remain this way?

Just HOW integral is R.E.M. sleep to our brain development?

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REM sleep stimulates the brain regions used in learning. This may be important for normal brain development during infancy, which would explain why infants spend much more time in REM sleep than adults (see Sleep: A Dynamic Activity ). Like deep sleep, REM sleep is associated with increased production of proteins. One study found that REM sleep affects learning of certain mental skills. People taught a skill and then deprived of non-REM sleep could recall what they had learned after sleeping, while people deprived of REM sleep could not.

Some scientists believe dreams are the cortex's attempt to find meaning in the random signals that it receives during REM sleep. The cortex is the part of the brain that interprets and organizes information from the environment during consciousness. It may be that, given random signals from the pons during REM sleep, the cortex tries to interpret these signals as well, creating a "story" out of fragmented brain activity.

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Relevant quotes should support your answer rather than form it in it's entirety –  Rory M Feb 1 '13 at 16:12
    
@RoryM While I do agree, I think this quote was helpful and answered my question well. By the way, it's: its. –  Rustyn Yazdanpour Feb 17 '13 at 2:56

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