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The creative power of sleep

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We’ve all sat staring into our computer screens, becoming increasingly desperate for a nugget of inspiration to reveal itself.

We can’t be fountains of creativity at all times, but there are ways in which we can help boost the flow of ideas.

Research has shown that getting a good night’s sleep can do wonders for your creative thinking, in all kinds of ways.

A REMedy for creative block

Back in 2010 Dr Sara Mednick published results of a study that indicated how REM sleep - characterised by rapid eye movement, faster breathing and increased dreaming - can have a significant benefit to your creativity and problem-solving.

Of those who took part in the study, participants who had recently experienced REM sleep were more able to see connections between seemingly unrelated things. Being able to combine ideas in new ways is crucial when trying to solve a problem.

For more from Dr Mednick check our her Tedx talk from 2013:

Dreaming of a better you

Another 2010 study, this time from Harvard, showed that dreaming helps us reactivate and reorganise recently learned material. This improves memory and boosts performance.

99 subjects were given one hour to learn how to navigate a complex maze. Half were then told to read or relax, with the others asked to sleep for 90 minutes.

The participants who slept and dreamed about the maze, saw a marked improvement when tackling the maze for a second time.

“Being able to combine ideas in new ways is crucial when trying to solve a problem”

Sleep it off

Your general productivity will also be greater when you’ve banked plenty of shut-eye. Research indicates that a lack of sleep - be that because of work, study, or being unable to turn off Netflix - can have a similar impact on your cognitive ability as having a few beers.

Negative effects can be seen after just 17 hours without sleep, and become more severe the longer a person stays awake.

A team of scientists at Western University, Ontario, have recently launched what they hope will become the world’s biggest study on the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain.

It’s hoped that with a big enough sample of participants it will be possible to determine the average number of hours sleep required for our brains to function at their best.

Tips to be a better sleeper

Parents will often do everything in their power to ensure their kids stick to a bedtime routine, for fear that breaking this pattern will result in chaos.

But it’s not just children who can benefit from routine, with adults often able to get a better night’s sleep when going through the same steps each night.

Using a phone in bed is a no no

1. When possible stick to a regular bedtime

Sticking to regular sleeping hours programmes your brain and body clock, meaning you’ll fall asleep easier and wake up feeling more refreshed.

You know what time you need to be up each morning, so work out what time you need to go to bed in order to achieve between the recommended 6-9 hours sleep.

2. Wind down your mind and body

For the best sleep be sure to prepare your mind and body for sleep by winding down. This can include taking a warm bath to help your body reach an ideal resting temperature, organising your thoughts by writing a to-do list for the following day, reading a book to distract the mind, and doing relaxation exercises such as yoga stretches.

3. Avoid using your phone or tablet

Research has shown that exposure to devices such as phones and tablets - which emit blue light - will trick our bodies into believing it’s still daytime. This delays the release of the important sleep hormone melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Try to fight your desire to check emails and social media in the hours directly before bed. Failing that, check to see if your device has a blue light filter, or install a third party app such as Twilight.

Maybe next time someone tells you to sleep on it, you might be inclined to take the advice.

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