'Sleeping On It' Could Improve Creativity

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June 22, 2009

Whenever you're facing a problem or tough decision, you might get the following advice from a friend: "Sleep on it." According to new findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , that might not be a bad idea. Researchers from the University of California San Diego have found that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or "active" sleep may assist the brain in forming connections between unrelated ideas, a method of creative problem solving. Participants in the study were shown three words and asked to find a fourth that could be associated with the other words. They were tested in the morning and also in the afternoon after a nap — some groups with and some without REM sleep. Researchers found that the REM sleep group's performance improved by almost 40 percent compared with their morning testing. Study author Sara Mednick said in a statement, "We found that — for creative problems that you've already been working on — the passage of time is enough to find solutions; however, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity."