How Napping Can Make You More Creative

Now here’s some news that will make your day! Scientists have discovered that taking a nap each day can increase your creativity, giving you permission (although your boss probably won’t) to take a snooze in the afternoon to boost your brain power.

We all know that adults are recommended eight hours sleep a night, but scientists have found that it is not necessarily the amount of sleep that is important as much as the quality of the sleep. Good sleep, free from distractions and waking moments is essential for good health. That’s not to say that taking less time to sleep is OK as long as it is what the scientists would deem good quality sleep. Sleep deprivation is a dangerous thing and has been known to cause a variety of accidents including the Chernobyl disaster and the Challenger shuttle crash. It’s also incredibly bad for your health, and a chronic lack of sleep can leave us in the perilous situation of developing diabetes and heart disease amongst other serious illnesses. In fact, studies took place in Greece confirming the link between potential heart disease and napping. Researchers followed 23,681 men over six years and found that those who napped three times a week had lowered their chances of dying from heart disease by 37 percent.

Dr. William Fishbein, from the University of New York, studies neuroscience and reported the findings of his recent study to the Society for Neuroscience. His study revolved around a test where he asked 20 college students to memorize some Chinese characters forming words of two characters. Ten of these students then took a 90-minute nap and were monitored to ensure that they didn’t pass into REM sleep. His reasoning behind this was that he believed there was another wave of sleep before REM called ‘slow-wave sleep’ that he suspected had an active role in the memory function.

After the two groups woke, Fishbein handed the two groups words that they have not seen before, but included a character relating to the original set of words. He found that the group who had the nap worked out that the first of the two characters meant the same thing whereas the group without the nap couldn’t.

While these students took 90-minute naps, it is difficult to pinpoint what nap would be right for each individual, as some people naturally sleep less but may have a more efficient sleep than someone who sleeps a longer amount of time. What is known, is that for the best results a nap should take place 6-8 hours after waking. It is also beneficial to keep any nap to under 20 or 90 minutes or more as any other length of nap will cause a phenomenon known as sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is what is used to describe the groggy feeling you get when you wake up sometimes and is caused by waking up in phase 3-4 of the sleep cycle instead of completing the cycle. Interrupting sleep can affect the memory-making part of the brain as well as giving you that fuzzy feeling.

This fuzzy feeling can also be caused by medical conditions such as sleep apnea, a condition often experienced by overweight and obese people. In sleep apnea, the sleeping person experiences periods of up to 30 seconds where they stop breathing, causing a break in the sleep cycle and a lower level of oxygen circulating around the body. This enforced waking causes the cells in the hippocampus to birth less regularly, affecting memory making abilities. Some scientific evidence compiled by Dr. Matthew Walker from the University of California suggests that sleep, even in short bursts through napping helps to clear out the brain’s temporary storage space in the hippocampus allowing new information to be retained. During sleep, these memories are transferred to the prefrontal cortex. If you don’t catch up on enough sleep, this fills up the hippocampus, restricting memory retention for weeks after the event.

Sleep is also an essential part of hormone balancing and maintenance as well as having an important role in cell production, allowing people to look younger and feel better for longer.

Professor Jim Home of Loughborough University believes that the body is actually designed to have two periods of sleep a day and points out that the concept of 8-hour sleep is a relatively new idea created by western society to aid the running of the workplace. In China, the workers are not affected by this phenomenon as naps are built into the working day to aid productivity. Closer to home, Spain still comes to a standstill on a daily basis as the residents of the country have their siestas.

In fact, all over the world, there has been a slow-burning embrace of naps in the workplace. Airline pilots have had naps built into their working day for many years for safety, but here in the US, a shift has begun in big name companies such as Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and Google to embrace the afternoon nap.

Another benefit of creative sleep is the ability to dream, and artists and writers over the ages have long since attempted to harness their dream state to boost their creativity. One of the most famous examples of creatives attempting to embrace what is termed ‘lucid dreaming’ was Salvador Dali, who would wake himself up with a key held above a metal plate. When he reached dream state, he would drop the key in his sleep, waking him and enabling him to capture images in his hypnagogic state.  

Stephen King is also an advocate of waking sleep, writing in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that a regular sleep pattern encourages us to unlock similar images during our waking moments. He has also regularly spoken on his writing day involving many naps to boost his mood.

Whether you believe King’s logic or not, there are certainly overwhelming health benefits of having an additional sleep coming out of the scientific world at the moment. And we have only just touched the tip of the iceberg in scientific studies into the role the brain plays during the process of sleep, ensuring an exciting time in the years ahead. Now if you’d excuse me, I’m feeling a little sapped of creative juices. Time to take a nap, I think!

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