What does the fossil fish, scientific method, aromatic chemistry, and the periodic table all have in common?
If you guessed mentally challenging subjects, you're correct. Well, partially. What's missing? All of those discoveries came while the individual was sleeping. More specifically, their insights came through dreams.
There are many opinions and thoughts about dreaming. Sigmund Freud's popular theory revolved around dreaming being about a repressed longing (i.e. providing an area to sort through unresolved repressed wishes).
While sleep in general--and especially dreaming--is a great mystery that's just now starting to be unraveled, there's evidence that dreaming is beneficial to your emotional intelligence and overall productivity. Deep sleep can provide you with two benefits, in particular:
1. It can help you resolve difficult conflicts.
Let's face it, the workplace can be stressful and mentally demanding at times. Between high stakes presentations, team meetings, and aiming to hit financial goals, there are ample amounts of opportunities that can drain your emotional and mental energy.
These numerous and unpredictable scenarios are a perfect recipe for you to conjure up anxiety and heightened emotional feelings which can affect your relationships with peers along with the quality of your work.
REM sleep (where dreaming occurs) happens to be the only time when your brain is nearly devoid of noradrenaline (an anxiety-triggering molecule when its levels are high) according to a 2011 Frontiers in Neurology article. While this is going on, key emotional structures of your brain are reactivated during REM sleep.
In simpler terms, your brain is re-processing stressful, intellectually demanding, and sometimes painful memories from the workday in a safer environment due to the noradrenaline not being involved. A big part of emotional intelligence is effectively perceiving, expressing, understanding, and managing your emotions along with the emotions of others.
In order to effectively do this, you have to ensure that you're effectively processing your myriad of emotions on a daily basis which is where dreaming comes in hand.
As this 2012 study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience suggests, a lack of REM sleep in humans is associated with enhanced emotional reactivity from a behavioral and neural level. This simply means that your ability to absorb stressful and difficult moments decreases which leads to a decreased ability to learn and move on from those particular moments.
2. It can help you become more resourceful and creative.
In REM sleep, your memories blend together. Just as you inundate your blender with a plethora of vegetables and fruits, your brain is the same way while it's dreaming.
While dreaming, your brain is inundated with an assortment of facts, figures from the day, financial numbers, policies from work, and meshes them with commonalities from the existing knowledge you have which leads to a smarter and more emotionally equipped individual ready to handle the next day.
In this 2007 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A., participants were taught a series of facts. Some were tested on the facts before going to sleep. Others were tested after a full night's sleep. Others still were tested after a 60-90 minute nap, which included REM sleep.
The full night's sleep and nap groups performed much better than those who were awake and sleep deprived. Maybe it's just me, but this seems like an obvious result.
Of course, understanding that sleep is important is one thing. Your next step is to effectively integrate it into your current operating system--which will make you a more creative and resourceful individual.