It is an age-old proverb - I'll sleep on it. Well, our ancestors did not say that for anything. According to recent findings, naps have now proven to be a scientifically sound advice.
According to a new study which measures changes in people's brain activity and responses before and after a nap suggests that a period of sleep may help weighing up pros and cons or gain insight before making a challenging decision. The Medical Research Council-funded study, led by University of Bristol researchers, aimed to understand whether a short period of sleep can help us process unconscious information and how this might affect behaviour and reaction time.
The findings further reveal the benefits of a short bout of sleep on cognitive brain function and found that even during short bouts of sleep we process information that we are not consciously aware of. While previous evidence demonstrates that sleep helps problem-solving, resulting in enhanced cognition upon waking; it was not clear whether some form of conscious mental process was required before or during sleep to aid problem-solving.
In this study, researchers hid information by presenting it very briefly and "masking" it - so it was never consciously perceived - the masked prime task. The hidden information, however, was processed at a subliminal level within the brain and the extent to which it interferes with responses to consciously perceived information was measured.
The findings suggest that even a short bout of sleep may help improve our responses and process information. Therefore, the results here suggest a potentially sleep-dependent, task-specific enhancement of brain processing that could optimise human goal-directed behaviour. Importantly, while it is already known that the process of acquiring knowledge and information recall, memory, is strengthened during sleep.
This study suggests that information acquired during wakefulness may potentially be processed in some deeper, qualitative way during sleep. The study is present in the Journal of Sleep Research.