Why is sleeping the office hours for your brain?

I have a problem. Well, I don’t consider it a problem – when I’m stressed I sleep. To the point where during exam periods at University my housemate used to perform regular checks to make sure I was awake! However, to me this has never been an issue. I internalise a lot of things as an individual and I do worry about it’s impact on my health so I did a bit of research. I came across this really interesting article and podcast between David Kadavy an author who currently writes about productivity and Neuroscientist John Kounios which discusses the idea that sleeping isn’t rest – it’s giving your brain a chance to do the work it needs to be refreshed.

“Sleep is creative work. Your brain is churning over memories, it’s clearing out the mental cobwebs—it’s generating ideas… Sleep is itself work. So if a person’s trying to solve a problem, and they take a nap to sleep on it, that’s not not working on the problem, that is working on the problem.”

It seems that though sleep may not be the ‘off switch’ we have always assumed and at first glance this doesn’t seem like a good thing. My knee-jerk reaction was -well hang on a darn tooting second… why should I ‘waste’ my time sleeping if I’m not actually switching off. Big cheeses in business seem to sleep so little, they forgo sleep in favour of maintaining their productivity. I’m even guilty of often having an average of 5 hours of sleep nightly just because I can’t switch off – but then I wake more refreshed than if I sleep for 7 or 8! I can rest assured that Kounios holds the belief that whilst we are sleeping the brain is doing “memory consolidation,” meaning it’s taking information that’s been stored and making it more retrievable. More retrievable information must be better information – particularly during exam season?

This is the kind of memory strengthening is crucial to problem solving during our working lives. This has made me reconsider my attitude to sleep – next time you think productivity will be enhanced by less sleep, remember that the difference isn’t so great.

1 Comment

  1. August 4, 2016 / 10:54 pm

    I really love the idea of this! I normally only get 5/6 hours a night and find it really elevates my stress levels. When I manage a good 8 hours at the weekend (sometimes even a cheeky afternoon nap too) I feel so much more inspired to do things. It’s almost like sleep presses a reset button!