3. How to Improve Your Brain: Sleep

Sleep isn’t solely essential for regenerating your physical body, but it’s imperative for reaching new mental insights and having the ability to see new inventive solutions to previous issues. Sleep removes the blinders and helps “reset” your brain to look at issues from a different perspective, which is crucial to creative thinking. A clear, alert brain allows us to learn, focus and remember information. On the opposite hand, once we’re sleepyheaded, we have a tendency to make additional mistakes and are less productive in school and at work.

Researches done at Harvard shows that people are 33 % more likely to infer connections among distantly connected concepts after sleeping, but few notice that their performance has really improved. Sleep is additionally known to boost your memories and assist you “practice” and improve your performance of difficult skills. In fact, one night of sleeping only four to 6 hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.

The process of growth, known as plasticity, is believed to underlie the brain’s capacity to manage behavior, including learning and memory. Plasticity occurs when neurons are stimulated by events, or information, from the surroundings. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of many genes and gene products that may be important for synaptic plasticity.

As you might suspect, this holds true for infants too, and research shows that naps can give a boost to babies’ brainpower. Infants who slept in between learning and testing sessions had a better ability to recognize patterns  new information, which signals an important change in memory that plays an essential role in cognitive development. Even among adults, a mid-day nap was found to dramatically boost and restore brainpower.

Researchers have tested this process by teaching people new skills and then scanning their brains after a period with or without sleep. When people have a chance to sleep, for example, after practicing a skill similar to piano scales, the centers of the brain that control speed and accuracy are more active than those regions in people who haven’t slept. Scientists think that while we sleep, memories and skills are shifted to more efficient and permanent brain regions, making for higher proficiency the next day. In fact, sleeping shortly after learning new information has been shown to help retention. Some research indicates that when people learn before going to sleep (or even before taking a nap), they remember the information better in the long term.

Sleep also helps us synthesize new ideas, not just remember the old ones. While you’re sleeping, pieces of knowledge can be pulled together from different experiences and parts of the brain to create novel concepts or “ah ha” moments. That’s a big help when you’re trying to solve a problem or make an advance in your work.

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