Sleep is a marvelous treasure on par with oxygen, clean water and pictures of horses smiling with their teeth.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University sought to explain the eye fluttering that occurs during people's REM cycles.
REM stands for “rapid eye movement,” and the flitting behavior of the eyes during this cycle of sleep is demonstrated by adults with perfect eyesight, fetuses and individuals who have lived their entire lives blind.
Researchers at TAU discovered during the REM cycle the signals that repeatedly occur in the brain resemble those that occur when humans process a new image through either sight or imagination.
The study's coauthor, Dr. Yuval Nir, told BBC News a perceived change of scenery may be what causes the eyes to flit.
Dr. Nir explained,
About a 0.3 seconds after the picture appears, these neurons burst – they become vigorously active. This also happens when people just close their eyes and imagine these pictures, or these concepts.
The study, which was published in Nature Communications, could explain why REM sleep is attainable even for the blind.
Rather than representing sight or surveillance in a dream, the eye flutters might instead be the brain changing channels between concepts. Throughout the four-year study, researchers observed the activity of approximately 40 neurons in individual epilepsy patients as they slept.
The electrodes in the epileptics' brains, initially implanted to help the patients cope with seizures, allowed researchers to study their neurons and better judge the sources of the eye movements.
While Dr. Nir insisted the study could not define the content of patients' dreams, transitions were clear.
We are sure that the brain is alternating between different mental imagery. Every time you move your eyes, a new image forms in the mind's eye.
In time, perhaps science will be able to explain why I can't stop dreaming of Billy Ray Cyrus playing volleyball at my family BBQ.