8 Simple Ways You Can Get Smarter While You Sleep
What you do before going to bed (or tucking in for a nap!) can make all the difference in your brain power. These are the simple tweaks that can sharpen your mind.
Pump up the pink noise
You’ve heard that white noise (like the light sound of a ceiling fan) is one small change you can make to catch more Zs. But pink noise, in which lower frequency sounds are more powerful, like the rush of a waterfall or pounding rain, may boost your brain, according to a new study from Northwestern University and published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The researchers found that when older adults listened to pink noise, their deep, slow wave sleep improved, and then they scored three times higher on a memory test the next day compared to after receiving a sham treatment. Want to try it for yourself? Download a pink noise app and hit the sheets. And check out these 10 tiny tricks to make yourself smarter.
Take a whiff
You already know that the smell of an apple pie coming out of the oven can send you straight back to mom’s kitchen, but it can also strengthen your brainpower at night. In one study, people played a memory game while a rose scent wafted in the room. After going to sleep, the researchers sent the rose odor back into the room for one group. Those who were exposed to this scent during the night, during slow wave sleep, had a better recall of the day’s task compared to control groups. The researchers say that the olfactory system activates prior memories in the hippocampus, making it easier to store new info. All you need is a diffuser and your favorite scent and you’re ready to make memories. Find out the everyday things that make you smarter.
Have a glass of wine
If you like to indulge in a pour of vino daily, there are certain benefits to your health—including your smarts. In fact, in a 2017 University of Exeter study, participants took part in a word-learning activity, then drank alcohol or abstained. The next morning when they repeated the cognitive task, those who were in the drinking group performed better than the teetotalers. (In fact, the more they drank, the better their memory; though, it’s still recommended that women consume one drink per day, and men two drinks per day at most.) Alcohol may put brain cells into a state that allows them to consolidate memories, and sleep may enhance that effect.
Avoid a late-night snack
If you find yourself performing midnight raids on the fridge, you may want to rethink your snack times. In an animal study, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles discovered that eating at “off” hours (when you should be snoozing) can cause a hiccup in the activity of a protein that affects both the circadian clock and the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory. Satisfy the munchies earlier and save your smarts. Don’t miss these 25 foods that will boost your brain.
Study before snoozing
Want to make sure you remember what you’ve just learned? Review it right before bed, suggests a 2012 study in PLOS ONE. People who memorized word pairs at 9 p.m. and then went to sleep for the night were able to remember more 12 hours later compared to those who studied at 9 a.m. Turns out sleep helps to “stabilize newly learned declarative memories,” the researchers note.
Dream about it
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If a work task or presentation pops up in your dreams, be happy it did because you may be able to remember more later. No matter what it was about, your dreams reveal a lot more about you than you think. Learning is encoded into your hippocampus during the nonrapid eye movement sleep stage (NREM). Dreaming about something you learned earlier that day during NREM sleep can help improve your memory of it, according to research in the journal Current Biology. In the study, people were trained to learn about the layout of a complex maze and then tested on it five hours later after an afternoon nap. Those who had dreams related to the task performed better compared to those who didn’t have these reveries or who stayed awake and simply thought about the task. Find out the 8 quirky habits that prove you’re smarter than most.
Take a nap
Here’s another reason to “sleep on it.” Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley asked a small group of participants to take on a difficult learning task. They then napped that afternoon and performed more learning activities later in the evening. The nappers improved their performance on the learning tasks in the evening. (The non-nappers did not.) The researchers say that sleep acts like a sweeper to clean out brain clutter so that new information can be learned and remembered. Here’s why napping is good for your brain.
Wake up on time
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You’d think the more sleep you get the better, but that’s not the case. In a study on older women, those who slept fewer than five hours or more than nine hours a night fared worse on cognitive tests compared to those who logged seven hours of shut-eye, per research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. In fact, sleeping too much or too little was equivalent to having a brain that was two years older. The amount of sleep (more than nine hours or less than five) may be an indication that you’re having less quality, more fragmented sleep, which can take a toll on your brain health. Next, find out the secrets sleep doctors want you to know.