When was the last time you went on vacation? And I mean really went on vacation...the not checking my work email kind of vacation. If you're like any of the 46% of Americans that did manage to take some time away from the office, chances are you haven't taken a legit vacation in a long time. More than half of Americans let their vacation days go to waste...that's more than 658 million unused vacation days!

Americans pride themselves on working longer and harder, but research suggests that if you want to actually work harder, perform better and be more creative you should take the much needed R&R you've been saving all year. Below are the myriad of ways taking a vacation this year will benefit you.

The Creative Spark: Researchers Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel found that the more someone is exposed to the familiar the less likely the area of the brain associated with motivation will respond. When it's exposed to something new, however, it has a heightened reaction and causes us to investigate and explore more. Going on vacation is the perfect platform to experience new foods, activities, or conversations, all of which will help stimulate our brains and spur creativity.

Renewed Sense of Focus: Not only can vacation help spark creativity, but some of those new ideas can help you center your mind so you're able to understand and tackle long-standing problems. You'll return to the office fresh and re-energized with a renewed perspective on challenges that lie ahead.

An Increase in Productivity: Sabine Sonnentag, professor of organizational psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany found that disengaging from work while not at work actually makes us more resilient in the face of stress and more productive and engaged at work. Stepping away from your work reduces stress, and allows you to check-in with yourself and remember what it is about your job that excites you. When you return, you'll be happier to get back to the grind.

Prolonged Health: During a nine-year study, researchers from the State University of New York at Oswego surveyed 12,000 men ages 35-57 and found that those who didn't take at least one week-long vacation per year increased their risk of dying from heart disease by 30 percent. Vacation is literally good for your health.