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Clearing the Brain’s Inbox

Neuroscientists have created a large body of evidence over the years for the importance of sleep. Now researchers have added new understanding to why sleep matters. When we sleep, information that is stored in our short-term memory (located in the hippocampus) moves to longer-term memory storage (located in the cortex). We process new information, create new neural pathways, and open space for new data and experience. This process happens during stage 2 REM sleep.

Of note is that it is equally advantageous to sleep before learning as well as after learning. Researchers say that sleeping before learning allows the brain to become like a dry sponge that is able to then absorb liquid. Enter the midday nap: data showed those who napped were able to integrate information more readily than those who did not. It allows the brain to take a “mental time out”. Even if you don’t sleep, a midday rest can produce similar results.

A good night’s sleep has not lost its importance. Most people know that stage 4 REM sleep is necessary for doing complex thinking and creative remapping of experiences and information.

In Brain Rules, Medina summarizes the importance of sleep by looking at its reverse, “Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function (decision-making), working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasons, and even motor dexterity.”

Some organizations have set up nap-pods. In day-long kindergartens and in some first grade classes an afternoon nap time still happens. How can our organizations and learning centers integrate the benefits of rest? Let the midday naps begin!

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