You Snooze, You Win!
~ The Character of Albus Dumbledore singing praises of dreams in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.
Did you know that there are scientists devoted to studying sleeping and dreaming? They try to unravel the mysteries of what happens in our brains when we snooze. In fact, they even question why we sleep! And they have come up with a theory that napping may make us smarter and dreaming may make us more creative.
The Sleep Experiment
In an experiment people were given word puzzles to solve. Some participants were allowed to sleep between sessions and some were not. The results were astounding and flew in the face of the old adage "you snooze, you lose!"
The group that was allowed to nap did much better than the group that stayed awake between sessions. They were able to make connections between seemingly unrelated things that the “awake” group could not make. This improvement in their scores came when they slept for over an hour, meaning that they had entered REM sleep (the phase associated with dreaming - see Notes).
A separate study showed that falling in to a deeper non-REM (i.e. dreamless) sleep acts like a clearinghouse of sorts. It moves events and facts stored in short-term memory areas of the brain (the hippocampus) to long-term memory areas (the cortex). The scientists conducting this research concluded that this means sleeping before an important activity is as important as sleeping after it. Dreamless sleep allows the brain to absorb better and retain longer.
So while the dream-phase of sleep is good for making connections between seemingly unrelated things, dreamless sleep is great for absorption and retention. They do warn that this may not work for everyone all the time, but it is worth sleeping over, don’t you think?
How many hours do you sleep in the night on average? Also, do you have an interesting dream you had recently that you can describe?