Psychology graduate student matt hall is wired for sleep; a short nap that typically has a big effect on his performance.
"I'm trying to get through a paper and I'm just finding myself not processing at all. I'll just go ahead and take a nap," he said.
Now a study of hall and 76 other volunteers shows that napping enhances creative problem solving, but only if the nap includes REM sleep, the stage when dreams occur.
"This is the first time that REM sleep has been shown to be directly connected to a boost in creativity. And also, that this is done in a day time nap," said University of San Diego sleep researcher Sara Mednick, PhD.
Mednick gave volunteers a creative problem solving test in the morning and again in the afternoon. Some volunteers got a nap in between, while brain wave monitors recorded their sleep stages.
Mednik's team documented that only the volunteers who got REM sleep improved their performance.
She believes during REM sleep, information flows freely between brain networks.
"And this is similar to what happens during dreams, you have these dreams, very fancifull, very bizarre. You can't quite figure out how these ideas are connected, but it's likely this is the same process," said Mednick, PhD.
Mednick says typically, only those naps longer than 60 minutes include REM sleep. Those short, seemingly restful naps actually didn't provide any real benefit.
One other note: the study also showed that the REM sleep did nothing to improve the memory capabilities among the volunteers -- only their ability to make creative associations between the information on the tests.