Recent science has confirmed that when you are sleeping, your brain is busy. In fact, during sleep, neurons in the brain fire almost as much as they do when you’re awake. We now know that the activities your brain performs while you’re resting are crucial to its health and optimal cognitive functioning.
We also now know that you can actually boost your brain power while you sleep and wake up smarter. Here are five ways to do that.
Sleep With Pink Noise
You’ve probably heard of white noise. Well, there are actually many “colors” of noise. The various colors assigned to noise (there’s also violet, blue, grey, and brown/red) refer to differences in the distribution of the frequencies audible to the human ear that comprise the noise. You can think of the colors of noise like to the colors in the spectrum of light.
Just as white light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow that humans can see, white noise is made up of all the sound frequencies that humans can hear. For example, white noise would be the hissing of a radiator or static from the television. There’s considerable evidence that white noise is effective for promoting sleep. It creates a constant ambient sound that helps to mask other noises that might wake you up.
Pink noise is louder and more powerful at lower frequencies than white noise. You can think of it as white noise with the bass turned up. Pink noise is common in nature. Some examples of it are waves rolling into the beach, leaves rustling in the trees, or the pitter patter of raindrops.
In one small study, Chinese researchers tested the effect of pink noise during nighttime sleep and daytime napping. Researchers noted improved deep sleep in people’s brain activity while they slept listening to pink noise as opposed to no noise both day and night. Interestingly, an even larger improvement was seen during daytime napping.
In another study, scientists synched pink noise with study participants’ brain waves, so that it played when their brains were in deep sleep. Compared with no noise, the pink noise allowed a longer duration of deep sleep. The subjects were also able to recall almost twice as many word pairs after sleeping with pink noise.
Smell Your Way Smarter
The sense of smell is closely linked with memory — more so than any of our other senses.
Have a Drink
The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learned information into long-term memory. The theory is that the hippocampus — the brain area really important in memory — switches to ‘consolidating’ memories, transferring from short into longer-term memory.”
The researchers were careful to stress that this positive effect should be considered alongside the well-established negative effects of excessive alcohol on memory and mental and physical health.
Don’t Eat Before Bed
Your body has an internal clock aligned to the daily cycles of light and dark, called circadian rhythms. Humans evolved to be active — including eating — during the day. The hectic pace of modern life means that people are often eating later at night. Recent research suggests that eating late at night could be taking a toll on memory. (Yikes! I’m guilty of this.)
A study in mice found that eating when they would normally be sleeping (mice are nocturnal) impaired the animals’ memory even when they got the same amount of sleep as other mice on a normal eating and sleeping schedule. Specifically, the study concluded:
This chronic circadian misalignment causes reduced hippocampal long term potentiation and total CREB expression. Importantly this mis-timed feeding resulted in dramatic deficits in hippocampal-dependent learning and memory. Our findings suggest that the timing of meals have far-reaching effects on hippocampal physiology and learned behaviour.”
Science has also shown that eating later can promote a negative profile of weight, energy and hormone markers – such as higher glucose and insulin, which are implicated in diabetes, and cholesterol and triglycerides, which are linked with cardiovascular problems and other health conditions.
Study Before Sleeping
- Acquisition refers to the introduction of new information into the brain.
- Consolidation represents the processes by which a memory becomes stable.
- Recall refers to the ability to access the information (whether consciously or unconsciously) after it has been stored.
Acquisition and recall happen when you’re awake. Research suggests that memory consolidation takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that make up memories. Although there is no consensus about how sleep makes this process possible, many researchers think that specific brainwaves during different stages of sleep are associated with the formation of particular types of memory.
The timing of sleep also matters. Sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for the initial formation of memories. Sleep after learning is essential to save and cement that new information into the architecture of the brain, meaning that you’re less likely to forget it.
Research shows that even a brief nap may boost learning, memory, and creative problem-solving.