Facial muscle activation during sleep and its relation to the rapid eye movements of REM sleep

J Sleep Res. 2011 Mar;20(1 Pt 1):82-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2010.00853.x.


Facial muscle contractions (FMC) are a commonly observed feature during sleep stages in human subjects. Previous studies have associated FMC to emotional expression during waking. Phasic features of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, such as REMs have also been linked to an increase in limbic structure activity with a subsequent relation to emotional dream content. We hypothesized that FMC would be more frequent during REM sleep, and that FMC would correlate with the characteristic REMs of this sleep stage. The present study was designed to evaluate the density per minute of the phasic and sustained FMC of five facial muscles (frontalis, corrugator, orbicularis oculi, zygomatic major left and right) during all sleep stages, and to explore their relation with REMs density in six healthy participants during an 8 h sleep recording. Results showed a significant increase in FMC of all recorded muscles during REM sleep, both in frequency and duration. Additionally, as expected, during REM sleep there was a positive correlation among the facial muscles and between these and REMs. Nevertheless, although associated in number, both features (FMC and REMs) were never simultaneous. Our results suggest that limbic activation during REM sleep may be responsible for the enhancement of facial muscle activity, which may be consistent with the theoretical perspective of a higher emotional activity during REM sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromyography
  • Electrooculography
  • Facial Muscles / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*
  • Young Adult