Ever been told to 'sleep on it' when you were struggling to make a decision or come up with an idea? A new study suggests this is actually a great idea - your brain may in fact be able to process information during naps that it's not even consciously aware of. That's right, you have a great excuse to take a nap at work from now on.
The idea that naps are good for you is not in dispute. Previous studies have proven that, aside from the obvious benefit to your energy and concentration, short sleeps can also help you retain information you've consumed before your nap, and can boost your memory.
Catnap, kip, snooze, siesta; whatever you call naps, there is no doubt these once frowned-upon short sleeps are gaining acceptance. But how useful are they in reality? And are they beneficial or detrimental to your overall health? Let's take a look at the science.
With the previous knowledge that sleep could help problem solving abilities, this new study honed in on the specifics of this mechanism, trying to find out whether this subconscious thinking was a continuation of a conscious thought process or whether it started of its own accord.
The researchers exposed participants to information that was 'masked' so that it was never consciously perceived, and then tested whether the sleeping brain would act on this information over the course of a 90 minute nap. Those who napped showed a definite improvement in taking on this 'masked' information, even when tested against multiple controls.
"Even a short bout of sleep may help improve our responses and process information," the study review suggests. It's not surprising that our brains collect more information than our conscious minds can grasp, but the fact that we can tap into this during sleep is actually pretty amazing.
"The findings are remarkable in that they can occur in the absence of initial intentional, conscious awareness, by processing of implicitly presented cues beneath participants' conscious awareness," said Dr Liz Coulthard, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences.
Turns out you're actually a lot smarter than you think - but mainly when you're asleep.
Everybody loves a good nap. There have been plenty of studies showing that naps are good for you, that a nap can improve your brain function for the rest of the day and generally leave you feeling much better. There have even been studies suggesting that our natural circadian rhythm lends itself to taking a short midday nap. We know it's good for us — but how can you get the perfect nap to refresh your body and mind?