Scientists agree that sleep inspires creative problem-solving, but how?
Researchers from Cardiff University in Wales suggest that both REM and non-REM sleep work together to make creative connections.
Sleepers enter a light phase in the first stage of sleep and then the heavier slumber of non-REM sleep – during which the brain replays memories, allowing the brain to decipher generalities from specifics.
Part of the new theory states that the brain’s hippocampus, which captures memories of events and places, and the neocortex, the outer layer of the brain where memories of facts, ideas and concepts are stored, work together to replay memories that have related themes.
During REM sleep, a chemical called acetylcholine floods the brain – disrupting the connection between the hippocampus and neocortex – placing them both in a neutral state where neuron connections are easily formed, weakened, or strengthened.
When the brain goes through 90-minute cycles of REM and non-REM sleep throughout the night, the hippocampus and the neocortex sync and unsync repeatedly.
It’s like two people working on the same problem together, then taking some time to themselves to think it over and finally regrouping to tackle the problem together again.
So, if you’re working on a difficult problem and just can’t figure it out – sleep on it. Especially if you’re working on something “outside of the box”, don’t rush it. It may even come to you in a dream!