If you’re wrestling with a problem, and the solution seems too far away, take a note from researchers at UC San Diego and stop struggling; sleep instead. New research has helped us understand why the old adage “to sleep on it” can be so useful.
Specifically, it’s REM sleep which makes all the difference when you’re trying to be creative and find solutions to a problem. During this sleep phase, networks connected to the problem are stimulated and the brain can begin to come up with new and different associations. The researchers determined this while studying participants with word association memory recall tasks which were measured before and after periods of sleep.
In one period of sleep, participants either had a REM sleep or no REM sleep or they just rested quietly. All of the groups shared the same performance on the memory test, but those who had REM sleep scored 40% better on their word association task than they did before sleeping!
The most likely reason for this dramatic improvement in linking and cementing associations during sleep would be the effects REM sleep has on neurotransmitter systems. It’s clear that sometimes the answer isn’t another cup of coffee, or another supplement, or even a walk: sometimes you need to give it a rest.
University of California - San Diego. "Let Me Sleep On It: Creative Problem Solving Enhanced By REM Sleep." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com