Your sleeping mind

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In science fiction you sometimes read scenes where the villain attempts to "brainwash" the hero by programming him with audiotapes played while he is asleep. The belief, a mistaken one, was that you could somehow force the brain to remember things if it was played them while asleep.

This is clearly not possible, but there is no doubt that very mysterious things go on while we are asleep. Our brains, released from absorbing data during their waking hours, seem to have time to process and make sense of it. We even say things like "I'll sleep on it" in the hope that inspiration will come to us. And it often does. Indeed, many of the world's most famous inventors and artists cite revelations that have come to them in dreams or immediately on waking from sleep.

Researchers have discovered that your memory does not function as well if you do not get enough sleep. Some have suggested that the deep sleep called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is critical in enabling the brain to make sense of what has happened during the day. (See pages 26-8 for more information on the brain and sleep.)

Jayne-Anne Gadhia puts it like this:

I began to realize that if I went to bed worrying about something I would often have found the answer when I woke up. So now I deliberately pop a question into my mind before I go to sleep. In the morning when I am having a shower I consciously ask myself for the answer and almost invariably it comes into my mind.. I now use this technique as a means of solving problems.

Sir Bob Reid, deputy chairman of the Bank of Scotland and someone with a wide experience of leading large companies, finds that sleep works in a different way for him:

I dream a lot. In the midst of intense periods of work my dreams are always happier. When I am more relaxed or in the middle of intense physical activity, I tend to have less happy dreams.

I have a simple way of dealing with the thoughts that I often have in the middle of the night. Like many people, I find that good ideas or things I want to remember pop into my head just at the moment when I want to be sleeping. To make sure that I capture my ideas and at the same time minimize the interruption to my rest, I keep a few items by my bed—a magazine, a book, a spare pillow—which I gently throw toward my bedroom door (ensuring that I will have to walk over them when I get up in the morning). I hardly need to stir as I do this. As I turn over to go back to sleep, I actively associate the item I have thrown with the thought I have had and "tell" my brain to remember it in the morning when I get up.

Bizarre as this may sound, it works well for me. In the morning I see, or trip over, the item and recall the thought I had earlier


in the night. I also keep a pencil and notepad by my bed in case my thought is too complex to be fixed by my strange nocturnal throwing game and needs to be written down!

Knowing what you now do about how your memory functions, think of at least three things that you could do differently at work to help people recall more. Don't be afraid to use highlighter pens on the pages you have been reading or to make notes in the margins!

In so many way it is true to say that, as Accelerated Learning expert Colin Rose puts it: "There can be no learning without memory."

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