Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface. After sleep, people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas.
Business attitudes toward sleep may be starting to shift.
Claire Stapleton, a spokeswoman for Google, says “grassroots” interest in sleep led to an on-campus talk by Sara C. Mednick, a napping expert. Google also installed EnergyPods, leather recliners with egglike hoods that block noise and light, that allow employees to take naps at work. Other companies that have installed EnergyPods include Cisco Systems and Procter & Gamble.
The business world has long praised those willing to forego sleep to hammer away at the business at hand. But fortunately – and not a day too soon -- that tide is about to change.
As Mr. Chowdhury, the inventor of the EnergyPod, stated: “Maybe we could have avoided the crisis we are in now if these people had just gotten proper sleep,” referring to the deepest financial crisis to hit the U.S. since the Great Depression, caused by seriously flawed lending regulations and other financial mismanagement.
Because as recent research has found, sleep is imperative in order to reach new insights and be able to see new creative solutions to old problems.
If you keep toiling over a problem you can easily wind up with tunnel vision that keeps you from finding an appropriate solution. Sleep removes the blinders and helps “reset” your brain to look at things from a different perspective, which is crucial to creativity.
Dr. Ellenbogen’s research at Harvard indicates that people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas after sleeping, but few realize that their performance has actually improved.
In other words, you are likely more creative after sleep, but you might not recognize it because it’s hard to identify which specific insights were prompted by “sleeping on it.”
In addition to the recent findings of how sleep enhances your memories and helps you “practice” and improve your performance of challenging skills, other sleep researchers from across the United States have discovered that:
- A single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.
- Sleep deprivation can cause changes in your brain activity similar to those experienced by people with psychiatric disorders.
How Sleep Affects Your Health
Your body depends on your biological clock (circadian rhythm) to steadily regulate your sleep/wake cycles. When this process gets thrown off balance – which is, unfortunately, very easy to do -- it can wreak havoc on your health.
For instance, all of the following can confuse your body and make it think you should be awake when you should be sleeping, or vice versa:
- Staying up late
- Working the night shift
- Turning on a light in the middle of the night
- Using a night light
- Switching time zones (jet lag)
- Eating in the middle of the night or too close to bedtime
Your circadian rhythm influences so many things -- from your heart rate to body temperature and hormone production -- that when it’s disrupted, a cascade of negative health effects can occur.
For instance, too little sleep can:
- Alter your metabolism and make you gain weight
- Cause your brain to stop producing new cells
- Increase your risk of cancer by altering the balance of hormones in your body
- Increase your risk of diabetes by reducing your leptin levels
- Accelerate aging
- Increase your risk of heart disease and stroke
- Raise your blood pressure
- Speed up tumor growth. Tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
Additionally, your body does most of its repairs during sleep, so not getting enough of it can impair your immune system, leaving you less able to fight off diseases of ALL kinds.
Are You Sleeping Enough?
Generally speaking, adults need to get between six and eight hours of sleep a night. But there are definitely exceptions. Some people can, in fact, function well on as few as five hours a night, while others need up to 10.
However there is some suggestion that sleeping more than 8 hours may actually cause problems similar to not enough sleep. This may make it seem like “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t,” but just remember that a good rule of thumb to follow is that if you feel tired when you wake up, you probably aren’t getting enough sleep.
Personally, I usually sleep between six and seven hours a night, but sometimes as little as four. However, there are some major caveats here. I do not use an alarm clock, and sleep in a pitch dark room that is dark even at noon. So I wake up naturally once I am rested.
Also remember that oftentimes you will need more sleep during times of illness or emotional stress, or during the winter months. And pregnant women often need several hours more sleep than usual during their first three months of pregnancy.
If you have trouble sleeping – whether it’s trouble falling asleep or waking repeatedly -- take advantage of some of the practical solutions I’ve outlined in my 33 Secrets to a Good Night"s Sleep.
Also consider whether there may be some chronic emotional challenges such as anxiety or even depression that is impairing your sleep. I recommend using the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) if you’re suffering with disturbed sleep as it effectively addresses emotional reasons for insomnia. Please review my article Using EFT for Insomnia for more information.