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Sleep on it

January 21st, 2004 · No Comments

I saw this news ‘Sleeping on it’ really can solve problems on New Scientist earlier today and tonight its appearing on BoingBoing and BBC which I’ll quote below:

Sleep ‘can increase brain power’

A good night’s sleep helped those struggling to remember
Scientists say that they have shown how the brain can crack complex mental puzzles while its owner is sleeping.
Research at Luebeck university, in Germany, says tests on 106 volunteers back up anecdotal evidence that a good night’s sleep can help solve problems.

The volunteers were shown a number puzzle in which was embedded a “hidden code” revealing the answer, the journal Nature reports.

Those kept awake overnight reportedly had far less chance of solving it.

The scientists believe that because the brain appears to restructure information from the previous day during sleep hours, a period of sleep may produce insight into problems such as these.


Other experts say it is the first hard evidence that creativity and problem-solving may be assisted by the activity of the brain during sleep.

I used to practice this proof in high school. I’d write a paper at night, gathering together my notes and research and scribble out my thoughts. But before making my final copy I’d sleep. My strategy was to wake early, around 3 or 4 am or so, to edit and write up a nice ink copy. (I can still remember myself camping out in the bathroom, since it was the warmest room in the house, huddled up by the floor heater, surrounded by pencils, paper and books) When I explained this to one of my English teachers, she seemed to think that the sleeping and waiting were also parts of my writing process. I just knew that I thought and wrote more clearly in the mornings. But – as this research shows – she was right.

Recently I’ve been doing this again with my blog: working on entries at night but waiting to edit and post them the next day. I often think it’s no big deal to stay up a couple hours later or push the limits of my sleepiness. I’d rather get things done than sleep; these precious quiet hours without little children running about. But then it hits me hard the next day: I get cranky with the kids and daydream about napping. I’m finding that taking the time overnight to work on longer posts or emails, using the “draft” and “save” options, helps things come together better rather than staying up late.

From the New Scientist article:

Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that a night’s rest can bring clarity to a complex dilemma. For example, the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev devised the periodic table following a moment of nocturnal “insight”. “He said he had a dream where all the elements fell down in the right positions,” says Ullrich Wagner at the University of Lübeck in Germany.

Wouldn’t that be cool to dream?! After reading all these news stories, I want to take sleep more seriously and respect rest more. I can use all the insight I can get, nocturnal or not!

Tags: news