Sleep, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity.
— Matt Walker (English scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, and author of the book “Why we sleep.”)
Sleep is amazing.
It can reduce your chance of heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, help you lose weight, decrease your stress levels and delay aging.
But there are other lesser known benefits to a good night’s sleep that are rarely discussed but are equally important. These three intangibles play an important role in assisting our academic and professional performance.
Dmitri Mendeleev, the Russian chemist described dreaming the periodic table of the elements in its completed form.
Robert Lewis Stevenson dreamed the two key scenes of his novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde.
The French Surrealist poet, St. Paul Boux, would hang a sign on his bedroom door before retiring which read: “Poet at work.”
And Paul McCartney came up with the melody for “Yesterday” in his sleep:
“I woke up with a lovely tune in my head,” he told author Barry Miles for the biography Many Years From Now, which was published in 1998. “I thought, ‘That’s great, I wonder what that is?’ There was an upright piano next to me, to the right of the bed by the window. I got out of bed, sat at the piano, found G, found F sharp minor 7th – and that leads you through then to B to E minor, and finally back to E. It all leads forward logically. I liked the melody a lot but because I’d dreamed it I couldn’t believe I’d written it.”
Yes dear friend, you can literally sleep your way to success, and here are 3 ways that sleep can do this for you:
1. Creative Breakthrough/Problem Solving
Dreaming helps us think outside the box.
Our prefrontal cortex powers down when we sleep and we don’t censor our thoughts. We become less defensive about our ego-centered positions, allowing our brains to make connections between all the scattered thought crumbs we accumulated during our waking hours, and come up with ingenious solutions and breakthroughs.
A study by Sara Mednick, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego shows that REM directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state. Mednick added that it appears REM sleep helps achieve such solutions by stimulating associative networks, allowing the brain to make new and useful associations between unrelated ideas.
So even if you don’t think of yourself as creative, it does not stop your brain from coming up inventive solutions to your problems.
2. Worry/anxiety resolution
Sleep gives the body's neurons a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Without this opportunity, neurons become so depleted and polluted through normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction.
A study by researchers at the University of California (UC), Berkeley found that anxiety levels plummeted after a full night of sleep and that this reduction was even more significant in people who spent more time in the deep, slow-wave, non-REM stage of sleep.
“Deep sleep restores the brain’s prefrontal mechanism that regulates our emotions, lowering emotional and physiological reactivity and preventing the escalation of anxiety,” reports Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley and the study’s lead author.
In short, sleep gives your brain a chance to chill out.
3. Memory retention
Sleep protects your memory.
When you sleep, all the interference caused by mental and behavioral activity that can interfere with memory storage is paused, allowing memory retention by enhancing memory stability.
Sleep also consolidates memories according to their relative importance and the learner's expectations for remembering.
On the other hand, not sleeping enough causes our over-worked neurons to not coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.
We forget more.
So want to solidify a new skill? Retain knowledge you need for your school work? Improve your information retrieval?
Take a nap!
We live in world where not sleeping has become a badge of honor, a signal to the world that one is such a hard worker, pulling all nighters going into important meetings and exams carrying a Venti double caffeine whatever, or a monstrosity of an energy drink.
But science has proved once and for all that this is a ridiculous, uninformed and outdated mode of thought.
So go ahead and enjoy your bedtime and your afternoon naps, secure in the knowledge that you will wake up smarter, with some astonishingly creative breakthroughs and resolutions to some of your most stubborn problems and issues.
Love and Sweet Dreams