Sleep on it

So you thought your brain was resting while you were asleep?  Well turns out parts of your brain are as active when you’re asleep as when you’re awake.  And while science doesn’t fully understand why we sleep, or exactly what function dreams serve, we do know that sleep plays an important role in the consolidation and stabilization of memories and for many people a role in their creative processes.

Wallace Chapman and I discussed some of this research on my regular chat on his Sunday morning Radio Live show this week.  (Click here for audio of the interview).

It’s now pretty well accepted that one of the functions of sleep is to consolidate memories.  And dreaming may very well play a part in this.  Brain scans of our neuronal activity while we’re asleep show clearly that we’re reliving, editing and consolidating memory while snoring away.

There are also multiple studies that show when you have people learn a new skill right before sleeping, allow them a good nights sleep, and then test them on the new skill the next morning, they show improvement as compared with those who have not slept in between learning and testing.  (Click here to read more).

Maybe there was wisdom in all those late night cram sessions?

The other interesting research, seems to confirm something creative people know anecdotally.  Sometimes our dreams provide inspiration.  There are many examples of scientists dreaming the solution to a problem, and musicians waking up with new tunes playing in their head.  (Click here to read more).

And it seems that this allows us to understand another important function of sleep.  While we’re asleep the parts of our brain that restrict our thinking to just the logical and familiar are less active.  It is thought that with these parts of the brain turned down, we are free to be more creative and at a neuronal level make novel, creative connections.

So struggling to learn a new skill, solve a problem or looking for inspiration? Sleep on it.  It may even help to deliberately engage in the new behavior or think about the problem before you go to sleep.  And then close your eyes and let you brain do the work…

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