Sleep Can Help You Discover Knowledge You Never Knew You Had

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Oct 5, 2018

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Everyone knows that sleep can help you make good decisions — that’s because it can reveal information you’re not conscious of having, according to new research from the University of Bristol, UK.

The study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that during sleep, the brain processes information we picked up on subconsciously — that is, information that’s there in the background of our thoughts. It can reveal a new pro, a new con, or a new complicating factor that our brains will never pick up on when we’re awake and stressing.

The findings confirm previous studies that have found short naps can boost cognitive functioning — everything from memory, to reasoning, to attention, to emotional regulation — after we wake up. But it’s the first research to determine that you don’t have to consciously dwell on a problem in order for sleep to help you solve it.

Using 16 healthy participants of varying ages, researchers presented two tasks. One mimicked conscious experience, and the other mimicked subconscious experience through a practice known as masked priming. A good example of masked priming is when a word or symbol is sandwiched subliminally between two others, the three flashing in rapid succession; people typically only register the first and last. This 2-second video clip is a better example of it than words can describe. (The video shows three words/symbols, but you’ll likely only be aware of two.)

After the two tasks, some participants were asked to nap for 90 minutes, while others stayed awake for the same amount of time. Afterwards, the two groups completed the same tasks again. An EEG device (Electroencephalogram) monitored participants’ brain activity during the tasks before and after the nap.

Researchers found that while sleep did not affect how a person carried out the ‘conscious’ tasks, when it came to processing information gained subliminally, the nappers were better at the ‘subconscious’ task after having slept.

Researchers say this suggests sleep can bring information we know subconsciously to our conscious awareness. Which means, a nap will leave you better equipped, with more information, to make better decisions.

Well, if they insistzzzzzz….

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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