Monday, January 25, 2021

"A Change Is a Good as a Rest"

I do a lot of intense mental work. Periodically, I take a break and do a different activity for a while: listen to part of an audiobook or watch something on TV or play a game. There is an old saying that “a change is as good as a rest.”  I know that when I take a break and change my activities, I often return to the first activity with renewed interest and energy. My question is: are rest and sleep interchangeable for the brain? Is a change as good as a sleep for the brain?

 A report on a study led by Christoph Nissen, MD, PhD, and his team at the Medical Center, University of Freiburg, was published recently in the journal SLEEP. Sleep has a dual function for the brain: Unused connections are weakened and relevant connections are strengthened. Apparently, this is something that does not occur during just a rest (e.g., a change of activities). Sleep after training improves performance on various tasks in comparison to equal periods of active wakefulness. Sleep is more than rest for improving performance. Resting does not substitute for deep sleep when it comes to keeping up with the intensive activity performance demands of daily life. Einstein posited that when you are working on a project or problem and take a break to do something else, that is a “rest” of sorts, although the brain may continue to work in the background on the original project or problem. In that type of scenario, a change may be as good as a rest. Sleep is different from rest, however. More tomorrow.

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