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Dreaming During Development

July 16, 2015

REM sleep shapes the brain by replaying the day’s experiences.



How REM sleep shapes the brain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Sleeping babies spend twice as much time as adults do in Rapid Eye Movement, or REM sleep, the stage when dreams occur. To find out why, Washington State University, Spokane neuroscientist Marcos Frank and his colleagues studied young cats as their visual systems developed.

MARCOS FRANK (Washington State University, Spokane):

When the animals went into REM sleep, the activity of individual brain cells resembled the activity patterns that we see when they are actually experiencing something, when they’re seeing something. So it’s as if the neurons were dreaming about their visual experience.


In the journal Science Advances, he reports that when REM sleep specifically was disrupted, the cats’ visual systems didn’t develop properly. The work highlights the importance of quality sleep, especially for children and teenagers, whose brains are still maturing. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.