Does 'Sleeping On It' Really Work?

2 min read

By Jared Miller

The Rumor: When faced with a problem, 'sleeping on it' will help you make the right call

At some point or another, we’ve all had to make a difficult decision. One of the most commonly offered pieces of advice is to “sleep on it.” So, is that a good idea, or is it actually just an excuse to procrastinate?

The Verdict: Sleep really can help you make better decisions

What may seem like an impossible problem could actually have a clear solution after you get a few hours of shut-eye. upwave review-board member Russell Sanna, Ph.D., executive director of sleep medicine at Harvard University, believes that the importance of getting a good night's rest can't be overstated. "If you’re having a problem in life or at work," he says, "analyze the problem and its possible solutions, [then] sleep on it before making a final decision."

Research backs up Sanna's advice. A study from Lancaster University found that among three groups of participants given both easy and difficult problems to solve, the group that was able to sleep before solving the difficult problems was most successful. Apparently, "sleeping on it" is most beneficial when it comes to dealing with tough decisions. With more trivial ones -- such as what to make for dinner tomorrow night, or what movie to see this weekend -- it's not really worth it.

A good night’s sleep helps your mind process what you encountered during the day so you can efficiently utilize the information later. But it’s also essential for bringing in new information in the first place. A University of California, Berkeley study found that getting adequate shut-eye before learning helps recharge our brains and makes them ready to take on new information. Sanna describes this process by comparing bits of information to pieces of paper, and the brain to a series of filing cabinets. “Different pieces of paper are filed in different portions of the brain, and the pathways to access those different files are consolidated [during] sleep,” he says.

And don’t dismiss the benefit of improved learning if you aren’t in school anymore. Sleep helps visual and motor memory learning as well -- both of which can be helpful in everyday life and work. Being able to take in and process new information is a must when solving problems.

So next time you’re having trouble making an important decision or learning something new for work or pleasure, know that getting some sleep really will help. Sleep tight!