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KEY POINTS:

1. We have 80-100 billion neurons and each neuron has hundreds to thousands of connections to other neurons. When we sleep, the neurons make new connections (called synapses) between each other.  

2. NREM sleep is for mental recovery and learning - when we make memories so we can retain all that new information we gathered during the day.

3. REM sleep is for creativity - when we encode procedural memories like how to perform a new physical skill or mental process.

It’s clear that poor sleep causes health problems and great sleep can help you live a healthy disease-free life. But sleep also has a powerful effect on mental performance. Obviously, there is a huge mental element to managing the art and science of flights, from piloting to safety and comfort. And there is daily learning that comes with new situations.

Here’s how sleeping better can help you learn better, be more creative and improve your mental game – on the job and in your life. 

The main stages of sleep – NREM and REM, each have different effects on our ability to learn and create. Professor Vincent Walsh from the University College of London has described the deep, slow wave sleep that happens earlier in the night as being crucial for encoding of information and facts that we encountered during the day. NREM sleep seems to be when we make memories so we can retain all that new information we gathered during the day. The second half of the night – when we are in REM sleep – is when we encode procedural memories like how to perform a new physical skill or mental process. It is also when we do subconscious creative problem solving.

Simply, the first half of sleep is for mental recovery and learning, and the second half is for physical recovery and creativity.

Sleep Soundly to Be More Creative

When we sleep, neurons in our brains make new connections (called synapses) between each other. We have 80-100 billion neurons and each neuron has hundreds to thousands of connections to other neurons. The key is that the growth of new neurons and the new connections happens at night while we sleep. So if you want to ensure that you are being as creative as you can, that you can solve difficult problems, or come up with new ways of performing a task, then sleep should be at the top of your list of priorities.

Recently, REM sleep has been identified as an incredibly creative state. In a study at the University of California-San Diego, researchers found that REM sleep “directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state…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.” Wow - that’s good to know. REM sleep is what allows us to find creative solutions to new problems. 

Sleep Soundly to Learn Better

Pulling an all-nighter to get ready for exams is common. In a school that I visited, a Principal told me that many of the students show up in the morning with an array of energy drinks after staying up late studying. This is hardly a health-building approach! Imagine if we taught all our kids how to sleep better? What would happen to our learning as a nation?

I’ve said we do our learning at night, when our brain is building new connections called synapses. Scientists in China and the US have recently used a microscope to witness those new synapses being formed in the brain during deep and sustained sleep. What exactly did they see? In short, they watched the brain building memories. Envisioning this process may motivate you to improve your sleep: it’s like your fingers reaching toward each other and then becoming entwined as your clasp your hands together. Your fingers are the synapses that join your two palms, which are the neurons. In the study mentioned, researchers saw the brain replay the day’s activity like a movie and build new connections between neurons.

To sum up: our mental lives are richer and better when we sleep well, which makes all the other aspects of our lives better: our work, relationships, favourite pastimes. Who wants to be more creative and hold onto what’s been learned every day? You do!

Today's POWER-UP: Read Fiction Before Sleep

1. Before you fall asleep at night, read books, preferably fiction. It calms the mind and activates parts of the brain that you use to fall asleep and dream. Your books should have a story (i.e. not be work related) – ideally something that requires your imagination. When you're done your book - pass it on!

2. E-readers make it easy to take books with you when you travel, but they do send light into your eyes and confuse your brain about when it should release the chemicals that help us fall asleep. Ideally, pick up a paper-printed book, and it is best to read by a small bedside light. If you do use an e-reader, make sure you set brightness to the lowest setting and activate night shift to get rid of the blue light.

 

The information and advice provided in this program is intended to assist Sky Regional employees with improving their general health. It is not intended and should not be used in place of advice from your own physician or for treatment or diagnosis of any specific health issue. Sky Regional is not responsible for the content of this program which has been specially developed and is being provided to you by the Wells Group Inc., in consultation with Sky Regional. By participating in this program you acknowledge that undertaking any new health, diet and/or exercise regime involves certain inherent risks, that you assume such risks, and that you release Sky Regional and the Wells Group Inc. from any responsibility or claim relating to such participation.