June 09, 2009
REM Sleep Improves Creativity

Taking a nap that includes the stage of sleep with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) will improve your creativity when you wake up.

While evidence for the role of sleep in creative problem-solving has been looked at by prior research, underlying mechanisms such as different stages of sleep had not been explored.  Using a creativity task called a Remote Associates Test (RAT), study participants were shown multiple groups of three words (for example: cookie, heart, sixteen) and asked to find a fourth word that can be associated to all three words (sweet, in this instance).   Participants were tested in the morning, and again in the afternoon, after either a nap with REM sleep, one without REM or a quiet rest period.  The researchers manipulated various conditions of prior exposure to elements of the creative problem, and controlled for memory.

“Participants grouped by REM sleep, non-REM sleep and quiet rest were indistinguishable on measures of memory,” said Cai. “Although the quiet rest and non-REM sleep groups received the same prior exposure to the task, they displayed no improvement on the RAT test.  Strikingly, however, the REM sleep group improved by almost 40 percent over their morning performances.”

The authors hypothesize that the formation of associative networks from previously unassociated information in the brain, leading to creative problem-solving, is facilitated by changes to neurotransmitter systems during REM sleep

So if you get stuck on a problem take a nap. Here's the PNAS research paper.

Getting enough sleep will also improve your athletic performance.

WESTCHESTER, Ill. – Athletes who extended their nightly sleep and reduced accumulated sleep debt reported improvements in various drills conducted after every regular practice, according to a research abstract that will be presented on Monday, June 8, at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Results of the study indicated that sleep extension in athletes was associated with a faster sprinting drill (approximately 19.12 seconds at baseline versus 17.56 seconds at end of sleep extension), increased hitting accuracy including valid serves (12.6 serves compared to 15.61 serves), and hitting depth drill (10.85 hits versus 15.45 hits).

According to the lead author of the study, Cheri Mah, M.S., researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory at Stanford University in CA., many of the athletes who participated in the study realized for the first time the importance of sleep and how it impacts their performance during competitions.

Exercise might not help you sleep better. But it isn't clear as to the direction of causality. It could be that people who are live wires during the day also have a harder time sleeping.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 June 09 09:35 PM  Brain Sleep

James Bowery said at June 9, 2009 10:41 PM:

In the late 80s I ran a software department for SAIC automating ordnance inspection for the Army. Needless to say, I was rather concerned when guys were drowsy, and generally encouraged people to program in pairs to prevent subtle errors from creeping into the code. One discipline I enforced was making guys who seemed a little bleary go sleep as long as it took to get them to be alert. I think mine may have been the only software dept in SAIC with multiple sleeping cots in dedicated rooms for use during normal business hours (rather than letting people engage in marathon heroic programming binges to meet deadlines, which is the normal use of sleeping cots in software). This practice was seen as a little eccentric by the Army guys, of course, but then you have to put yourself in their shoes when their men load up 10 inch rounds automatically inspected for flaws.

Allan said at June 13, 2009 10:58 PM:

James, as a former tanker, I think that I can speak for those of us who fired the big guns, I'm certainly appreciative of your efforts!

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