Non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM sleep)

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Non-rapid eye movement sleep, or NREM, is, collectively, sleep stages 1–3, previously known as stages 1–4. Rapid eye movement sleep (REM) is not included. There are distinct electroencephalographic and other characteristics seen in each stage. Unlike REM sleep, there is usually little or no eye movement during this stage. Dreaming is rare during NREM sleep, and muscles are not paralyzed as in REM sleep. People who do not go through the sleeping stages properly get stuck in NREM sleep and because muscles are not paralyzed, a person may be able to sleepwalk. In addition, there is a parasympathetic dominance during NREM. During the period of Non-REM sleep, the mindset of a person is more organized.

Stages of NREM sleep

NREM sleep was divided into four stages in the Rechtschaffen and Kales (R&K) standardization of 1968. That has been reduced to three in the 2007 update by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

  • Stage 1 – occurs mostly in the beginning of sleep, with slow eye movement. Alpha waves disappear and the theta wave appears. People aroused from this stage often believe that they have been fully awake. During the transition into stage 1 sleep, it is common to experience hypnic jerks.
  • Stage 2 – no eye movement occurs, and dreaming is very rare. The sleeper is quite easily awakened. EEG recordings tend to show characteristic "sleep spindles" and "K-complexes" during this stage.
  • Stage 3 – previously divided into stages 3 and 4, is deep sleep, slow-wave sleep (SWS). Stage 3 was formerly the transition between stage 2 and stage 4 where delta waves, associated with "deep" sleep, began to occur, while delta waves dominated in stage 4. In 2007, these were combined into just stage 3 for all of deep sleep. Dreaming is more common in this stage than in other stages of NREM sleep though not as common as in REM sleep. The content of SWS dreams tends to be disconnected, less vivid, and less memorable than those that occur during REM sleep. This is also the stage during which parasomnias most commonly occur.
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