Good Sleep is Not Just for Rest, it is for Creativity Too!
Amazingly, there are a lot of people that see sleeping as a waste of time and sleep as little as possible, but there overwhelming evidence showing sleeping more can boost both productiveness and creativity.
In the video below, professor Matthew Walker, Ph.D., founder and director of the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science and author of the book “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams,” explains what happens in your brain while you dream, and why this is so important.
Read his book!
“Dreaming is essentially a time when we all become flagrantly psychotic,” Dr. Walker says. The reasons for his extreme-sounding diagnosis are 5X, as follows:
- When dreaming, we see things that are not there, so we are hallucinating
- While in the dream, we believe things that cannot possibly be true, which means we are delusional
- While dreaming, we are confused about time, place and the identity of the people involved, so we are suffering from disorientation
- Emotions fluctuate wildly while dreaming, a condition known as being affectively labile
- And upon waking, we forget most if not all of the dream experience, so we are suffering from amnesia
If we would experienced any 1 of the above 5 while awake, would be are reason to seek psychiatric treatment.
But, while asleep these states are normal biological and psychological processes.
The Big Qs: What are the functions and benefits of dreaming?
The Big A’s:
According to Dr. Walker, dream sleep, which occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle, has at least 2 known brain benefits: creativity and psychological well-being.
Starting with creativity, during REM sleep in general, and dreaming specifically, information ywe have recently learned is integrated together with a catalog of autobiographical data from prior experiences, building novel connections between the old and the new.
“It’s almost like group therapy for memories,” Dr.Walker says, adding, “Through this informational pattern alchemy at night, we create a revised mind-wide web of association. And you can start to divine new novel insights into previously unsolved problems, so that you wake up the next morning with new solutions.”
In fact, sleep increases, by about 250%, oour ability to gain insights that might otherwise remain elusive.
Tests also reveal that just dreaming about performing an activity increases our actual physical performance 10X, as old and new memories are integrated to form a new whole, new possible futures are also imagined. This is what we perceive as “the action” of our dream. The sum total of these processes allows us to see the meaning of life events.
According to the recent research, non-REM sleep and REM sleep appear to contribute to creative problem-solving in different but complementary ways.
The non-REM sleep portion known as slow-wave sleep is a time during which the brain replays memories that are thematically related in one way or another and organizes new information into useful categories or thematic schemas.
During REM sleep, the brain starts to combine these categories and create novel points of connection between them, however far-fetched or unlikely, hence the “impossible” aspects of many dreams. On the other hand, this random linking of information is also how many new inventions are conceived.
An example: Otto Loewi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery that the primary language of nerve cell communication is chemical, not electrical, as previously thought. The elegantly simple scientific experiment that led to Loewi’s award-winning discovery came to him in a dream.
The chemical responsible for nerve cell communication is now known as acetylcholine, which is also the chemical responsible for the randomization of data connections during dreaming, as it disrupts the connection between the hippocampus, where memories of events and places are stored, and the neocortex, where facts, ideas and concepts are stored and the actual replay of memories take place.
A 2nd benefit can be likened to overnight psychotherapy a finding explored in Dr. Walker’s writing: “Overnight Therapy? The Role of Sleep in Emotional Brain Processing.”
The act of dreaming “takes the painful sting out of difficult, even traumatic emotional experiences,” Dr. Walker says, allowing us to wake up the next morning feeling better about those stressful or hurtful experiences.
In a sense, we can think of dream sleep as emotional 1st aid noting that “It is not time that heals all wounds, but it is time during dream sleep that provides you with emotional convalescence.”
One of the reasons for this is because REM sleep is the only time when our brain is completely devoid of noradrenaline, which triggers anxiety when elevated.
So, by reactivating an emotionally upsetting event in the absence of this Key stress chemical allows the memory to be processed in a calmer, more relaxed state.
In a previous article published by Greater Good Magazine, a UC Berkeley publication, Dr. Walker wrote: “How do we know this is so? In one study in my sleep center, healthy young adult participants were divided into two groups to watch a set of emotion-inducing images while inside an MRI scanner. Twelve hours later, they were shown the same emotional images — but for half the participants, the 12 hours were in the same day, while for the other half the 12 hours were separated by an evening of sleep.
Those who slept in between the two sessions reported a significant decrease in how emotional they felt in response to seeing those images again, and their MRI scans showed a significant reduction in reactivity in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain that creates painful feelings.
Moreover, there was a re-engagement of the rational prefrontal cortex of the brain after sleep that helped maintain a dampening influence on emotional reactivity. In contrast, those who remained awake across the day showed no such dissolving of emotional reactivity over time.”
So, to optimize health, make Sleep a priority given its importance, take a few moments and evaluate your sleep habits.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Dream and Live lively
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