Why Sleep is the Best Problem Solver

June 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Creativity

The CureResearch by  leading sleep expert Dr. S. Mednickat the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep enhances creative problem solving more than any other sleep or waking state.

Dr. Mednickat found that for creative problems you’ve already been working on, the passage of time is often enough to find solutions. But for new problems, only REM sleep seems to enhance your creativity. Mednick feels REM sleep does this by stimulating the creation of the associative networks that allow your brain to make new and useful associations between unrelated ideas.

The study participants were shown several groups of three words (for example: cookie, heart, sixteen) and asked to find a fourth word that could 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 sleep, or a quiet rest period. The importance of REM sleep to creative problem solving was obvious: Unlike the non-REM and quiet rest groups, the REM sleep group improved by almost 40 percent over their morning performances.

And REM sleep is apparently also connected to memory. Dr. Dennis McGinty of the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Healthcare System has conducted research that has clearly established that REM sleep deprivation reduces cell proliferation in the part of the forebrain that contributes to long-term memory.

According to avid dream researcher Bradley Thompson, perhaps the most remarkable problem solving comes from what is called lucid dreaming – actually seeming to wake up during your REM sleep. During a lucid dream you can actually direct your dream experience, and recall it all when you awaken. The creative problem-solving results can be remarkable.

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