You Can Get Some of the Benefits of Sleeping While You’re Still Awake
We all need more sleep. Although adults typically should get more than seven hours a night, more than one-third of Americans average less than that despite chronic sleep deprivation having well-known impacts on our overall health—like increasing the risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. But although there’s no substitute for a good night of sleep, as it turns out, there are some ways to harness a few of the benefits of sleep while we’re still awake.
As research is showing, we spend about half of our day in what’s called an “offline state,” where we’re not paying attention to our immediate surroundings—when we’re daydreaming or otherwise letting our mind wander. We tend to think of it as wasted time, but as it turns out, being in that offline state has its benefits, which include memory consolidation. (Researchers have long known that taking a 30-to-90-minute nap after learning helps with retaining new information, but who has time for that?)
What is “offline waking rest”?
Research suggests that closing your eyes and resting for a few minutes, which is called “offline waking rest,” can offer a similar benefit to that post-learning nap. Offline waking rest is defined as a period of time where you’re not explicitly paying attention to any external stimuli or internal cognitive task. Instead, it’s a period where you close your eyes and let your mind wander without paying explicit attention to anything in the environment or trying to focus on any one thing in particular.
In a meta-analysis published in 2019, researchers found that 15 minutes of offline waking rest helped with memory consolidation, which included recalling details of a short story. So the next time you find yourself needing to retain new information, set aside a few minutes to close your eyes and let your mind wander. The short break will likely help you retain the information, while also giving you a few moments of calm in an overly busy world.