A Power Nap Might Be All That's Standing Between You and an Innovative Idea

Updated 06/18/18
How To Be More Innovative

"Sleep on it" is probably the most common advice my mother would share when I was trying to solve a tricky dispute between friends, or navigating an issue at work. To which I would deeply sigh and walk off a little underwhelmed. But as I’ve grown older (and equally more fascinated with the brain and how it works) turns out that sleep hygiene is crucial to learning, creativity and innovation. So yes, thank you mum. You were right.

In fact, a Professor in the Cognitive Psychology Program at Colorado State University, Anne M. Clearly, teaches students in her course that a fundamental element of learning is to get episodes (which I’ve translated to: Nanna naps) between attempts. And while research has proven for a while now that sleep helps memory and learning by consolidating memory processes during this time, it hasn't really been able to pin point why. Until now. New research published in the Trends in Cognitive Sciences journal shows the trigger of innovation may lie between the two types of sleep that you get at night.


According to the new study, How Memory Replay in Sleep Boosts Creative Problem-Solving, the researchers found that as we switch from Slow Wave Sleep (SWS)—responsible for strengthening memory. Random Eye Movement Sleep (REM)—where we dream. The switch between the two may help the promotion of creative insight. According to Clearly, in Psychology Today, this is because they both help "strengthen the newly-detected connections in the knowledge-building abstraction phase". After many iterations throughout a night's sleep, the mind is primed to make a mental leap when awake.

This may be why sleep is so conducive to innovations or insights," by creative complex problem-solving mechanisms. 

What’s perhaps so liberating about this study is that for all the high-achievers crunching numbers way into the late hours of the night, there is now growing evidence that a balanced approach to any professional pursuit could in the long run, be more beneficial, the authors of the study concluding that "creative problem-solving is critical for all spheres of innovation and pioneering thought. As such, it forms the foundation of a technology-based economy."


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Read more about the study at Psychology Today. 

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