Post by Kyle St. Romain.
Have you ever been faced with a difficult decision and responded with, “Let me sleep on it”? While that response certainly a great way to delay an important decision, it also turns out that there is some science behind it too.
In a study conducted at the University of California, San Diego a few years back, researchers found that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — the dream stage of sleep — helps foster the formation of associative networks in the brain more than any other wake or sleep state. According to the lead researcher, Dr. Mednick, “For creative problems that you’ve already been working on — the passage of time is enough to find solutions. However, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity.” Note the difference between new and existing problems.
To put this into numbers, REM sleep was found to boost creative problem solving by almost 40 percent as compared to the participants who only had either quiet rest or non-REM sleep. This boost in creative problem solving is associated with the brain’s ability to create new nerve connections, uninterrupted by outside influences that we are subject to during non-REM sleep or while we’re awake. If you let it, your brain will wire itself to solve problems for you — the human equivalent of autopilot.
You can read the full text of the study here.
In past articles I’ve introduced you to the idea of taking an afternoon siesta, or power nap, to boost performance and energy levels throughout the day. However, the study cited above is the first to look specifically at how the stages of sleep impact your performance. While resting can boost your energy levels, you really need to hit a deep sleep to gain the most benefit. On average, it takes about 90 minutes after falling asleep to hit the REM stage (stage 5). Plan accordingly.
So next time you have a difficult and new decision to make or problem to solve, try sleeping on it. You may be surprised with what you come up with in the morning.