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Sleep on it to enhance your creativity
By Kim Harrison,
Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com
In several of my articles I mention the benefits of writing text or planning a communication activity, and then putting the material away overnight to return to it the following morning. I find this brings fresh insights that enable me to fine-tune and improve the material. A lot of creative people recommend the same. An article in The New York Times on 23 October 2007 also throws further light on the subject. An extract:
In a 2007 study, US researchers reported that participants who slept after playing a laboratory-based memory game scored significantly higher on a retest than those who did not sleep. While asleep they apparently figured out what they didn’t while awake: the structure of the simple hierarchy that was involved in the test.
“We think what’s happening during sleep is that you open the aperture of memory and are able to see this bigger picture,” said the study’s senior author. He added that many such insights occurred “only when you enter this wonder-world of sleep.”
Now, some neuroscientists are arguing that at least one vital function of sleep is bound up with learning and memory. A cascade of new findings, in animals and humans, suggest that sleep plays a critical role in flagging and storing important memories, both intellectual and physical, and perhaps in seeing subtle connections that were invisible during waking - a new way to solve a math problem, even an unseen pattern causing stress in a marriage.
The theory is controversial, and some scientists insist that it’s still far from clear whether the sleeping brain can do anything with memories that the waking brain doesn’t also do, in moments of quiet contemplation.
Yet the new research underscores a vast transformation in the way scientists have come to understand the sleeping brain, which has emerged as an active, purposeful machine, a secretive intelligence that comes out at night to play - and to work - during periods of dreaming and during the netherworld chasms known as deep sleep.
Study findings suggest that the sleeping brain works on learned information the way a change sorter does on coins. It seems first to distill the day’s memories before separating them - vocabulary, historical facts and dimes here; cello scales, jump shots and quarters over there. It then bundles them into readable chunks, at different times of the night. In effect, the stages of sleep seem to specialize in handling specific types of information, the studies suggest.
“During waking we have a thousand things happening at once, the library is filling up, and we can’t possibly process it all,” a researcher said. While awake the brain is also gathering lots of valuable information subconsciously, he said, without the person’s ever being aware of it.
“It’s during sleep that we have this special condition to clear away this overload, and these REM [rapid eye movement] processes then help store what’s important,” the researcher said.
Dreams still defy scientific measurement but they, too, have a place in the evolving theory of sleep-dependent learning.
It is likely during REM sleep, some scientists argue, that the brain proceeds to mix, match and juggle the memory traces it has preserved, looking for hidden connections that help make sense of the world. Life experience is cut up and reordered, sifted and shuffled again. This process could account for the cockeyed, disjointed scenes that occur during dreams: the kaleidoscope of distilled experience is being turned.
It also might account for that golden gift often attributed to a night’s sleep: inspiration.
To hear some people tell it, a night’s sleep changed their world. It was reportedly during sleep that the Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev’s periodic table of the elements tumbled into place. Friedrich August Kekule, a 19th-century chemist, said he worked out the chemical structure of the benzine ring - an important discovery - when he dreamed of a snake biting its tail. Athletes, including the golfer Jack Nicklaus, have also talked about insight coming during sleep.
About the Author
Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.
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