How to make sure your brain is performing at its peak



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THOMAS EDISON is said to have held a steel ball in each hand as he prepared for a nap. When he nodded off, they would drop, waking him and allowing him to capture the ideas he had in the moment just before sleep – a period he believed to be one of the most creative. But are there really certain times when our brains perform better? And, more broadly, do we excel at different sorts of thinking at different stages in our lives? If so, it is worth asking how we can make the most of these mental peaks and push our brains’ abilities to the max.

While Edison’s method may have been unorthodox, it turns out he was onto something, as Delphine Oudinette at the Paris Brain Institute and her colleagues discovered in 2021. They gave 103 slightly sleep-deprived people a seemingly complex maths problem that could be solved with a simple creative insight. Participants who had been woken just after falling asleep were almost three times as likely to make the creative leap and solve the problem than those who remained awake throughout the experiment.

This knowledge may help if you are looking for inspiration. But if it is memory you are trying to optimise, then deep sleep is when your brain does its heavy lifting – laying down new long-term memories from your day’s experiences. To make the most of this, you need enough sleep, which for adults varies between 7 and 9 hours each night. If you are among the many people who…


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