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Biol Psychol. 2013 Feb;92(2):152-68. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2012.10.010. Epub 2012 Nov 19.

Why REM sleep? Clues beyond the laboratory in a more challenging world.

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Sleep Research Centre, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK.


REM sleep (REM) seems more likely to prepare for ensuing wakefulness rather than provides recovery from prior wakefulness, as happens with 'deeper' nonREM. Many of REM's characteristics are 'wake-like' (unlike nonREM), including several common to feeding. These, with recent findings outside sleep, provide perspectives on REM beyond those from the laboratory. REM can interchange with a wakefulness involving motor output, indicating that REM's atonia is integral to its function. Wakefulness for 'wild' mammals largely comprises exploration; a complex opportunistic behaviour mostly for foraging, involving: curiosity, minimising risks, (emotional) coping, navigation, when (including circadian timing) to investigate new destinations; all linked to 'purposeful, goal directed movement'. REM reflects these adaptive behaviours (including epigenesis), masked in laboratories having constrained, safe, unchanging, unchallenging, featureless, exploration-free environments with ad lib food. Similarly masked may be REM's functions for today's humans living safe, routine lives, with easy food accessibility. In these respects animal and human REM studies are not sufficiently 'ecological'.

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