Monday, June 8, 2009

Creative Problem Solving Easier with REM Naps

A new study shows that taking a nap can help with creative problem solving. Rather than waiting to figure things out, new problems can be easier solved by taking a quality nap – more precisely, a nap complete with REM (rapid eye movement).

The study, conducted by Sara Mednick, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and first author Denise Cai, graduate student in the UC San Diego Department of Psychology reveals that REM sleep affects the brain in such a way that creative processes are stimulated.

Dr. Mednick says, "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." We have to wonder if a nap might become acceptable at work when new problems arise – Dr. Menick’s research suggests that the brain works better to solve problems by connecting associations between previously unrelated ideas during REM naps.

It is not just the quiet and lack of distraction associated with a nap that makes problem solving easier. To test the association between problem solving and taking a nap, the researchers gave a word association task to three groups of study participants, called a Remote Associates Test (RAT). The groups were asked to find a word to associate with three other words.

All of the groups were tested in the morning and again in the afternoon. One group was given quiet time, one group just rested, and a third group had a nap with REM sleep prior to the afternoon session. "Although the quiet rest and non-REM sleep groups received the same prior exposure to the task, they displayed no improvement on the RAT test. Strikingly, however, the REM sleep group improved by almost 40 percent over their morning performances”, says Denise Cai.

The authors concluded that taking a nap, complete with REM sleep, helps brain function by forming new networks, facilitating creative problem solving.