Getting enough restful sleep restores the mind and body, preparing both for the challenges that lie ahead. Without it, mood, concentration, and mental performance suffer. And according to research reported in the February 2012 Harvard Men's Health Watch, sleep may actually improve cognitive function. These findings suggest that even a brief nap may help boost learning, memory, and creative problem solving.
Sleep is divided into two major phases, rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non–rapid-eye-movement (NREM). Sleep begins with the NREM state, which lasts about 60 to 90 minutes, before REM sleep kicks in. Dreaming is most common during REM sleep, but it may also occur during the early stages of NREM sleep.
A 2010 Harvard study found that dreaming may reactivate and reorganize recently learned material, improving memory and boosting performance. Ninety-nine healthy college students with normal sleep patterns were studied. Each agreed to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and drugs for at least 24 hours prior to the experiment.
To continue reading this article, you must login
Or subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.