How REM and Non-REM Sleep may work together to help us solve problems

How REM and Non-REM Sleep may work together to help us solve problems


A few years back, almost by accident, I discovered the existence of PGO (Ponto-Geniculo-Occipital) brainwaves, so, it seems too coincidental that this research ends up in my inbox; or is it . . .

I often ask a client about their awareness of brainwaves, mostly, to my surprise, this is because some people have little or no awareness of them. However, while most are familiar with the term brainwaves, there is quite a lot that they do not know. Brainwaves (aka neural oscillations), come in many forms, e.g. Beta (16-31Hz), Alpha (8 - 13Hz), Theta (4 - 7Hz), Delta (.5 - 3Hz) etc. Far fewer are aware of Gamma brainwaves (32 - 100), they're the fastest and even fewer know of the least known SMR (sensorimotor rhythm) waves (12.5 - 15.5Hz). However, in relation to hypnosis, I will focus on PGO waves because they could provide a solid scientific reason that explains "Hypnosis!" These waves originate in the Pons (part of the brainstem), then traverse the lateral geniculate nucleus (where the optic nerve innervates the thalamus) and end up in the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe. These waves occur in short bursts and are believed to be central to certain aspects of sleep, dreaming as well as memory formation and storage.

Scientists know that during hypnosis many people enter theta brainwave states (occasionally delta too), fortunately, this is well documented. Also, is the fact that dreams mostly occur in the REM and NonRem-2 phases of sleep. And since some dreams often have varying memorable visual components, it somewhat adds to the conundrum of how and why hypnosis works! The relevance of my work to this research is the comment by the researchers - "the interleaving of REM and non-REM sleep might facilitate creative problem-solving in different but complementary ways?" The very essence of hypnotherapy is to solve problems and most often, in very creative ways!

One of the roles of sleep/dreaming is to consolidate and reconsolidate memories. And science believes that another role of dreaming is to support sleep, i.e. to keep us asleep. Since, in one way or another, all human issues relate to aspects of memory, sleep plays a crucial role in the formation of good and bad memories. These memories then translate towards good or bad thoughts/behaviours. For example, someone gets onto an aeroplane in a highly emotional state, say reliving memories of a recent breakup, and then experiences severe turbulence, which also happens to invoke the fear response (fight or flight), now the memory of the breakup and the turbulence combine and a fear of flying can result. It is clear here, that the fear of flying is not based on anything solid or tangible, it is merely connected through two emotional experiences converging and that convergence takes place in the brain. Now there are three different memories of these events:

1) the memory of the breakup

2) the memory of the turbulence and

3) the combined memory of the breakup and the turbulence.

All of which can elicit an anxiety stimulus. So it is possible that a person driving in a car, over bumpy terrain, can suddenly have an overwhelming memory (emotional response) of the breakup, simply because the feeling is somewhat similar to turbulence. Now, this is not to say it will happen; merely that it could? That is why anxiety is so confounding and illogical at times. Clients so often say, "for no reason I" . . . but there's always a reason, it just may not be one that makes sense!

So, back to PGO waves. It turns out that auditory stimulation (e.g. the hypnotist talking) promotes PGO waves and they facilitate REM and Non-REM sleep states and REM consolidates memory. So, theoretically, new suggestions, alternative options/solutions are introduced into the subconscious during a theta/REM state, which then creates a feedback loop (via PGO waves) that then adds, perceptively, a new memory (milliseconds later) of a solved problem to the mind and this then changes the way the old memory expresses itself! Evidence to support this is because I have so often used a therapeutic intervention (hypnotic prescription - word medicine), that has nothing to do with the presenting issue, as was such in the case mentioned above. How else could we explain such an abstract phenomenon, such as hypnosis, that works by the use of pure illogical processes? 

The fact that hypnosis works, is fairly well accepted; how it works may now be better understood! Hypnosis is merely the nomenclature that describes a neural process that promotes self-healing and mind realignment!

My objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into emotional experiences that may actually not be happening! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

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The Research: 

Sleep is known to be important for creative thinking, but exactly how it helps and what role each sleep stage -- REM and non-REM -- plays remains unclear. A team of researchers have now developed a theory, outlined in an opinion published May 15 in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, to explain how the interleaving of REM and non-REM sleep might facilitate creative problem-solving in different but complementary ways.

"Suppose I give you a creativity puzzle where you have all the information you need to solve it, but you can't, because you're stuck," says first author Penny Lewis, a professor at the Cardiff University School of Psychology. "You could think of that as you've got all the memories that you need already, but you need to restructure them -- make links between memories that you weren't linking, integrate things that you weren't integrating."

Studies show that this kind of restructuring often happens while we are asleep, so Lewis and her co-authors drew on that literature, as well as physiological and behavioural data, to create a model of what might be happening during each stage. Their model proposes that non-REM sleep helps us organize information into useful categories, whereas REM helps us see beyond those categories to discover unexpected connections.

According to previous research, memories captured by the hippocampus are replayed during non-REM sleep, and as we detect similarities between them, that information gets stored in the cortex. Because the hippocampus and cortex are in close communication during this stage, Lewis and her co-authors propose that the hippocampus somehow controls what is replayed. Because it prefers to replay things that are similar or thematically linked, it encourages us to find those links and use them to form schemas or organizing frameworks.

During REM sleep, on the other hand, the hippocampus and cortex don't appear to be, nearly, as in sync. So, Lewis's team suspects that the cortex is now free to replay stored memories in any combination, regardless of whether they are similar. Meanwhile, evidence suggests that Ponto-Geniculo-Occipital Waves cause areas of the cortex to randomly activate, which could trigger the replay of memories from different schemas.

"So, what we propose is that, if you're stuck on some kind of problem, that problem is salient, and we know that salient things are replayed," Lewis says. "The slightly hypothetical part is that, when something else is randomly activated in the cortex that has an element that's similar, you'll form a link." These surprising links may be the creative leaps required to solve a problem.

To illustrate, she refers to Ernest Rutherford's discovery of the structure of an atom. He based his design on something that might seem unrelated: the solar system. According to the model that Lewis and her team propose, Rutherford's knowledge of atoms and solar systems would have been categorized into different schemas during non-REM sleep. Then, during REM sleep, his memories of atoms could have been re-played along with a randomly activated memory of the solar system, allowing him to detect the overlap between them and, later, apply it to his work.

"The idea is to layout this model in a formal way so that it's there and people can explicitly test it," Lewis says. Having received a five-year grant, she and her team are already at work on their own testing and look forward to sharing the results.

Story Source: Materials provided by Cell PressNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference: Penelope A. Lewis, Günther Knoblich, Gina Poe. How Memory Replay in Sleep Boosts Creative Problem-SolvingTrends in Cognitive Sciences, 2018; 22 (6): 491 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.03.009





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