- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004


Everybody feels refreshed after a good night’s sleep. But can you wake up smarter?

German scientists say they have demonstrated for the first time that our sleeping brains continue working on problems that baffle us during the day, and the right answer may come more easily after eight hours of rest.

The German study is considered to be the first hard evidence supporting the notion that creativity and problem solving are linked directly to adequate sleep.

Previous studies have shown that 70 million Americans are sleep-deprived, contributing to increased accidents, worsening health and lower test scores. But the German experiment takes the subject a step further to show how sleep can help to turn yesterday’s problem into today’s solution.

Scientists at the University of Luebeck in Germany found that among volunteers taking a simple math test, sleep-deprived participants were three times less likely to figure out a hidden rule for converting a set of numbers into the right answer than those who had eight hours of sleep. The results appear in the journal Nature today.

The study involved 106 persons divided into five groups of equal numbers of men and women ranging from ages 18 to 32. One group slept, another stayed awake all night and a third stayed awake all day for eight-hour periods before testing in the main experiment.

The study participants performed a “number reduction task” according to two rules that allowed them to transform strings of eight digits into a new string that fit the rules. A third rule was hidden in the pattern, and researchers monitored the test subjects continuously to see when they figure out the third rule.

The group that got eight hours of sleep before tackling the problem was nearly three times more likely to figure out the rule than the group that stayed awake at night.

Jan Born, who led the study, said the results support biochemical studies of the brain that indicate memories are restructured before they are stored.

Mr. Born said the exact process in the sleeping brain of sharpening these abilities still is not clear. The changes leading to creativity or problem-solving insight occur during “slow wave” or deep sleep, typically the first four hours of the sleep cycle, he said.

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