Nothing else can do what sleep does

Two of my recent entries (A Working Renaissance and There are two Americas: one is dying and one is ignored) concentrate on the value of of Intellectual Capital. I don’t overtly say it in these entries, but I feel the US economy is very diverse and yet dependent on novel and unique ideas. The US has manufacturing, construction, and farming but so does China. So does Russia. So does Mexico. The US is the best at Intellectual Capital.

So if the US is so dependent on this asset then why do Americans get so little sleep? The answer is mainly culture. But another reason is the positives of sleep are not directly observable. Earlier this year I wrote a three series set on the subject of sleep and work. Those entries are:

And yesterday Leslie Berlin wrote a piece for the NY Times called We’ll Fill This Space, but First a Nap. Here are some of her segments with my opinions:

“WASTE not life,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, patron saint of American entrepreneurs. “In the grave will be sleeping enough.”

Or the new school way of saying it “sleep when you’re dead.” This is very reinforcing in the culture.

Most people, Dr. Ellenbogen says, think of the sleeping brain as similar to a computer that has “gone to sleep” — it does nothing productive. Wrong. Sleep enhances performance, learning and memory. Most unappreciated of all, sleep improves creative ability to generate aha! moments and to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas.

Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, once defined creativity as “just connecting things.” Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface.

I felt I needed to throw this in since I applaud Apple in other posts for being very good at the Intellectual Capital. Steve Jobs might just be hitting on something regarding sleep, even if it is unintentional.

“Sleep makes a unique contribution,” explains Mark Jung-Beeman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies the neural bases of insight and creative cognition.

I like this quote because it reflects something most of us are aware of but never think about. Sleep is so valuable that we will risk one third of our lives to doing it.

In general, people are unaware of sleep’s effects on their performance.

The indirect or unobservable benefits of sleep undercut the importance of it. The success many people attribute to working 20 hour work days actually is in the paradigm of manufacturing and not Intellectual Capital.

In other words, people are more creative after sleep, but they don’t know it.

This lack of awareness makes it hard to identify specific aha! insights that have been prompted by sleep.

Business attitudes toward sleep may be starting to shift. Claire Stapleton, a spokeswoman for Google, says “grassroots” interest in sleep led to an on-campus talk by Sara C. Mednick a napping expert. Google also installed EnergyPods, leather recliners with egglike hoods that block noise and light, for employees to take naps at work.

I enjoy a good nap, but I’m not sure it is something I need to do at work. Getting eight hours a night is a good place to start.


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