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Your Brain on Sleep: Research on my favorite subject from my favorite school!

A couple of professors at my alma mater, The University of Notre Dame, have been busy delving into the secrets of the sleeping brain, and I love what they've come up with. Thanks to my sister and brother-in-law for sending the article, "Your Brain on Sleep" my way. Snippets are below, and you can read the whole thing here.  There are videos, graphics, and a ton of information, so be sure to click through!

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What's going on in your head when you sleep? The research of Jessica Payne, Associate Professor and Nancy O’Neill Collegiate Chair in Psychology, shows that the non-waking hours are incredibly valuable for your day-to-day, especially for helping to commit information to memory and for problem solving. If you ever thought sleep was just downtime between one task and the next, think again.

Turns out, your brain pulls an all-nighter when you hit the hay. Many regions of the brain - especially those involved in learning, processing information, and emotion - are actually more active during sleep than when you’re awake. These regions are working together while you sleep, helping you process and sort information you’ve taken in during the course of the day. Payne’s research has focused on what types of information are submitted to memory, and has been instrumental in better understanding how the brain stores information.

Payne’s course, The Sleeping Brain, routinely sports a waitlist as a sign of its immense popularity among Notre Dame students. One student, Matt Berg, took the insights gained from the course and applied them to principles learned in Notre Dame’sentrepreneurship master’s program, ESTEEM. The result is Somni, a digital platform that delivers interactive content and tools designed to help students and adults improve their sleep life. Notre Dame’sMcDonald Center for Student Well-Being is partnering with Somni to help college students better understand what goes on in the brain during sleep and to help them develop skills and habits for better sleep, brain function and performance.

(And here's my favorite part...) 

Payne’s research indicates all of us could benefit if we took a nap each day. The trick is keeping your naps brief enough, or long enough, so that you don’t wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle and feel groggy or fatigued after. Whatever the duration, Payne’s data suggests we never should’ve left daytime naps in kindergarten.


The ideal time to take a nap is in the afternoon, after lunch.

Stopwatch with 20
Napping for 20 minutes or less will keep the brain in Level 2 sleep, which is beneficial for cognition but is also a stage from which you can be easily awakened.

Stopwatch with 90
Napping for 90 minutes or so will allow your brain to complete an entire sleep cycle. Between 20 and 90 minutes, you run the risk of waking up in the middle of deep slow-wave sleep, and will awaken groggy and unrefreshed.

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