The science of sleep


I love it when neuroscience catches up with what creative people (ie all of us) know in their bones. The problem that has been on your mind all day suddenly gets resolved the next morning as you make the first cup of tea or stand in the shower.  Now recent research confirms our experience. Sleep (even in the form of a brief nap) is essential for learning and creativity.

Walker et al. (2005) found evidence of a form of ‘offline’ memory processing during sleep, enabling consolidation of a learning task during the day. John Medina in his book Brain Rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work (2008) agrees and makes a strong case for the afternoon nap. He cites a NASA study on pilot performance which indicated that a 45-minute doze boosted subsequent performance for a whopping 6 hours. (Take a look at his explanation at

The body knows what the brain needs. The phenomenon of the ‘lazy’ teenager is a bit of a misnomer. With all that hormonal upheaval and rapid growth going on, the brain of a teenager actually needs more time to integrate all the changes, hence the appearing for ‘breakfast’ after midday.

Absorbing information and fitting it into our existing web of knowledge is crucial for connecting up unrelated concepts. Connecting up seemingly unrelated dots is a cornerstone of creativity. Forward thinking organisations might take note of the human need for sleep, rather than regard the workforce as an efficient machine. Dormitories at the office? Now there’s a thought.


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