For years, I professed my belief that sleep was for tortured geniuses and members of the canine class. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” More recently, I’ve taken up sleeping in deference to my body clock, so I eschew alarm clocks unless I have an early-morning rendezvous with the TSA gateway to airline travel. Health researchers and productivity correspondents have been beating the drum for years calling on humans of all ages to get more sleep for better health, higher grades, less stress, greater productivity. More recently, articles have cited sleep as integral to weight loss, heart function and hormonal balance.
Newer research is correlating sleep with creativity, innovation and problem solving. During my visit to ?!WhatIf’s offices, I asked our guide where the nap mats are since research is now firmly on side of napping and ?!WhatIf is firmly in the business of innovation consulting. The brain gets very active when we sleep, not resting but cycling through newly learned material. Sleep is especially useful in problem solving, and researchers have put it to the test on subjects trying to crack codes and puzzles: those who “slept on it” got to solutions more quickly. Researchers concluded that brain processes activated during sleep allowed for a restructuring of neural connections, “setting the stage for the emergence of insight.”
I was particularly intrigued with this recent Fast Company blog post on napping. In it, Beth Belle Cooper writes that sleeping in 8-hour chunks is a relatively recent phenomenon, that the body is actually more aligned with napping as an adjunct to the longer sleep cycle at night. Memory, learning and ideation all benefit from what happens in the brain at rest.