I love it when the guys in white coats come up with data confirming what dreamers and creators already know, and it's even better when a savvy reporter carries the story through the major media. The news from a recent study published in Current Biology and reported on CNN is that our ability to process and store information is greatly enhanced when we take an afternoon nap, and is ten times better when we dream during that nap.
"When you dream, your brain is trying to look at connections that you might not think of or notice when awake," suggests the lead author of the study, Robert Stickgold, the director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, Massachusetts. "In the dream, the brain tries to figure out what's important and what it should keep or dump because it's of no value."
For the study, Stickgold's team directed 99 college students to memorize a complex maze they were shown on a computer screen. The researchers then placed the students inside a virtual, 3-D version of the maze and asked them to navigate to another spot within it. After taking this test a few times, half the participants took a 90-minute nap while the other half remained awake.
When the students were given the same test five hours later, those who had taken a nap did notably better than those who had stayed awake. The more interesting finding is that the nappers who dreamed about the maze performed ten times better than the nap-takers who didn't dream (or didn't remember dreaming). Many of the dreamers had not done too well in the initial test, which may have given their dreaming minds a spur to work on it until they got it right.
The results of this study would be no surprise to many creative people, at any point in history. So next time you have a tough assignment, take a nap - and catch your dreams as you come out of it.
Source: “Naps boost memory, but only if you dream” by Denise Mann. Reported by CNN April 23, 2010.