Looking for those extra tenths? Try sleeping on it.

At its fundamental basics, racing is about being the fastest driver on the track on a given day. It sounds simple, but when you extrapolate that to the thousands of competitors on iRacing, it soon becomes apparent the battle isn’t just with fellow competitors, but with the track that rolls out ahead. Because to be at the top in virtual or real motorsport, means being the one to hustle their car around x miles of circuit the fastest. Whether it’s practice, qualifying or racing, time is one of the governing indicators of who will rise to the top of the pile.

Robert Stickgold, associate professor of psychiatry, Harvard University.

In the search for those few extra tenths of a second, sim-racers have been known to spend a small fortune on the latest gadget or enhancement in a bid to find the competitive edge, but recent scientific studies have shown that timing can have a beneficial effect on performance, and it costs virtually nothing to achieve.

Over the centuries the concept of dreams and their meanings have developed from mystics claiming they are spirits carrying messages, through to Freud’s theory of the sub-conscious and suppressed emotions. However, in the new millennium, a fresh breed of scientists have found evidence that the dream state is often used as a training tool for the brain, preparing an individual for tasks ahead of them. Researching this concept, Professor Robert Stickgold of Harvard University has carried out a study to gauge how sleeping and dreaming affect an individual’s performance at a given task.

Using the physically interactive video game ‘Alpine Racing 2,’ subjects were tested to see how fast they could complete the skiing course. The ‘gaming guinea pigs’ were then told to go to bed and to tell themselves to dream about the activity they’d just taken part in. The next morning, participants were asked to describe the dream they’d had the night before; in the case of the BBC science documentary ‘Horizon: Why do We Dream,’ the sim-skier dreamt of walking through deep snow, using the footprints of someone who had walked there before. He was then put onto the skiing simulator again, and showed an immediate improvement in technique and time.

“It’s about bringing new experiences to bear on old memories,” explained Professor Stickgold following the test. “The brain is trying to work-out ‘what memories do I have that relate to this ski game?’ It’s evidence that those that dream about it, perform better the next time.”

The thought of gaining an edge by simply having an early night appealed to the bone-idle nature in me, so I put it to the test. Over the course of my three attempts, I witnessed an improvement in my time on each occasion, ranging from a couple of tenths to a full second – depending on the circuit. I then recruited a laboratory rat from the England club to test out the theory, to see if the same successful results could be repeated.

Warning: She's preparing to kick your butt at Daytona tomorrow...

Using iRacing’s virtual Impala Class A car at Phoenix International Raceway, Jake Forster set a best time of 27.873s in the middle of the afternoon, and in the evening a 27.731s just before going to bed. The next morning, after polishing off his second cup of tea, Jake took to the track again and set a 27.681 within a few minutes, an improvement on both his previous offerings. Admittedly, the test was in no way scientific – I never asked Jake to think about his lap before going to bed, nor did I get a description of what he’d dreamed about the night before; it could even be argued that his improvement in times was just the natural progression that comes with practice – but taking into account the studies of Professor Stickgold and my anecdotal findings, there could be something in it.

So the next time you think you’ve ‘hit the wall’ and found the limit of your talents, try sleeping on it. You might be surprised at the results.

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