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Shhhhhh! I’m Sleeping…Getting Smarter

Memory is more important than reality when attempting to build great user experiences. This was one of the main ideas shared by Don Norman at UX Week.

Having a background in cognitive and behavioral psychology, I’m always more interested in learning about the “why” and “how” when discussing people and technology.

Following Don’s suggestion that memory is more important than reality; recent research has shown that our brains are anything but dormant when we sleep; and how this processing actually strengthens our memories:

The latest research suggests that while we are peacefully asleep our brain is busily processing the day’s information…sleep not only strengthens memories, it also lets the brain sift through newly formed memories, possibly even identifying what is worth keeping and selectively maintaining or enhancing these aspects of memory.

As social animals, not internet chatting / texting drones, people’s memories are strengthened by emotionally powerful events. The reconciling force in creating a great user experience is to understand the values of big business and designers; regardless of your title, position, or status in your organization.

When a picture contains both emotional and unemotional elements, sleep can save the important emotional parts and let the less relevant background drift away. It can analyze collections of memories to discover relations among them or identify the gist of a memory while the unnecessary details fade – perhaps even helping us find the meaning in what we have learned.

A good night’s sleep can actually help people discover purpose in their own efforts, improving clarity of thought and ultimately process. Perhaps if we spent more time understanding how people learn and less time debating the pros and cons of things like Google Chrome; we could achieve a better user experience both within and outside of the web:

As exciting findings such as these come in more and more rapidly, we are becoming sure of one thing: while we sleep, our brain is anything but inactive. It is now clear that sleep can consolidate memories by enhancing and stabilizing them and by finding patterns within studied material even when we do not know that patterns might be there. It is also obvious that skimping on sleep stymies these crucial cognitive processes: some aspects of memory consolidation only happen with more than six hours of sleep. Miss a night, and the day’s memories might be compromised – an unsettling thought in our fast-paced, sleep deprived society.