Over the past decade or so, researchers have started to weigh in: It's sleep.
"Our brains need sleep," says Jessica Payne, MA, PhD., director of the Sleep, Stress, and Memory Lab at the University of Norte Dame. "Sleep is important for memory, learning, decision making, emotion, insight, and even creativity."
We know most adults need between eight to eight and a half hours of sleep each night. Some need only seven hours, while others need nine. In rare cases, people may even need more or less.
"Our research shows if you don't get enough good quality sleep, you're likely to have problems with a range of mental activities, and these can be serious." Dr. Payne says, "Someone who is extremely sleep-deprived is as dangerous driving a car as someone who's had too much to drink."
How Sleeping On It Helps
Brain Booster - Good quality sleep is a brain booster. In a recent study, Dr. Payne found if you sleep soon after learning something new, you're more likely to be able to remember it the next day. Good sleep also helps you remember what you learn and use it later.
Keep Emotions In Check - Proper sleep also improves mood and relieves stress. When you don't sleep well, your body releases hormones that stay with you during the day. Sleeping well resets the brain each night according to Dr. Payne. "That makes it easier to control our emotions and prepare for the next day's challenges."
The Power of Naps - Sleep experts tell us the body and brain find a way to get the amount of sleep we need, whether night owls or early birds. If you miss out on your nighttime rest, a daytime nap can help. "A well-timed nap can give you several extra hours of productive time," Dr. Payne says, "as well as a boot to your mood and to your ability to make good decisions."
It's easiest for many people to nap in the early afternoon, or about 8 hours after you wake up. Limit yourself to 30-45 minutes. Any longer, and you'll enter deeper stages of sleep - and my wake up cranky and sluggish.
The time you spend sound asleep at night or during a nap can help relieve stress; improve learning, creativity, and mood; and help you meet the challenges of daily life. So go ahead... sleep on it!
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