From one of my favorite magazines, The Week:
A good night’s sleep and even a nice nap can boost your brain’s ability to remember and learn new information. But dreams can help even more, a new study suggests. For the Harvard study, 100 volunteers were asked to take a test on a computer that involved finding their way around a maze. After a five-hour break, they took the test again.
Those who had stayed awake in the interim improved their time by an average of 26 seconds, while subjects who took a 90-minute nap did much better, improving their time by 188 seconds. But the most dramatic improvements were among the four who actually dreamed about the test; their performances improved 10 times as much as the nondreamers’.
“I was startled by this finding,” Harvard neuroscientist Robert Stickgold tells Science News. “This study tells us that dreams are the brain’s way of processing, integrating, and really understanding new information.” Researchers suspect that dreams don’t directly improve memory; rather, they’re byproducts of a deeper thought process in which memories are integrated.
In any event, “If you’re studying something tough, get the basics down and take a nap,” says sleep researcher Michael Breus. “If you dream about it, you will probably understand it better.”
Yay! More scientific evidence in support of naps and healthy sleeping! I’ve always thought that falling asleep with visions of equations dancing in my head was a sign that I was maybe doing a little too much math. But maybe it’s just a way to prime my brain to dream about the problems I need to solve!