When it comes to lifestyle issues, there is no one-size-fits-all. And when it comes to problem-solving, the old phrase, “Sleep on it,” has turned out to be more than just a saying.
Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School is a go-to source for new information on sleep. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, power naps came up roses.
Power naps, says Stickgold’s work, improve learning and the processing of information. Daytime napping, sometimes the butt of jokes or needless worry, not only can prevent information overload, it can reverse it.
The journal, Nature Neuroscience, carried a study that showed that napping helps with what is popularly called “burnout.” Defined as “irritation, frustration, and poorer performance on a mental task,” burnout is known not only to students but to productive adults as well.
Besides, Stickgold has said, dreaming tells us that the brain is processing our experience to consolidate memory. What does that mean in practical terms? That not only does the sleeping/dreaming process help with learning, it also works to put what is learned into practice.
In fact, researchers at Lancaster University devised a new study that demonstrated that sleeping on a problem does work. Published in 2012 in the online journal, Memory & Cognition, it looked at time spent either awake or sleeping between problem-solving attempts to see which worked best for improving performance.
The research found that for difficult verbal problems, sleep made a difference when the participants tried difficult problems again that they couldn’t solve earlier. For easier problems, whether participants slept or stayed awake between attempts didn’t matter.
Professor Padraic Monghan, one of the reseachers at the Centre for Research in Human Development and Learning at Lancaster’s Department of Psychology, was quoted on Science Daily as saying this:
“We’ve known for years that sleep has a profound effect on our ability to be creative and find new solutions to problems. Our study shows that this sleep effect is greatest when the problems facing us are difficult. Sleep appears to help us solve problems by accessing information that is remote to the initial problem, that may not be initially brought to mind. Sleep has been proposed to ‘spread activation’ to the solution that is initially distant from our first attempts at the problem. The advice stemming from this and related research is to leave a problem aside if you’re stuck, and get some sleep if it’s a really difficult problem.”
Erin Wamsley, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at BIDMC and Harvard Medical School, worked with Dr. Stickgold. She was quoted on Science Daily online as saying this:
“Our [nonconscious] brain works on the things that it deems are most important…Every day, we are gathering and encountering tremendous amounts of information and new experiences…It would seem that our dreams are asking the question, ‘How do I use this information to inform my life?'”
Their study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. It can be accessed at Wamsley et al. Dreaming of a Learning Task Is Associated with Enhanced Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation. Current Biology/ Dependent Memory Consolidation. Current Biology, 2010.
Linda Chalmer Zemel received the Exceptional Performance Award from the National Guild of Hypnotists. She teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College.
Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note: Articles by the Buffalo Alternative Medicine Examiner are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For further information or advice, consult your health practitioner.