Why Sleeping on a Difficult Problem Helps You Get the Answer

We’ve all been faced with challenges and difficult choices. It can be tempting to agonize over the best response or obsess over a solution, but even with your best effort, you may not be able decide what to do.

The more you think about your problem, the more difficult it becomes to get the answer. You may feel frustrated as your desire to resolve the issue grows. Impatience sets in, and your brain gets more stuck than ever.

Soon you’re tired, cranky, and mentally exhausted because your mind has been running in circles all day. But sometimes the solution is as simple as sleeping on the problem.

Stop spinning your wheels and go to sleep

In periods of high stress, taking a rest may be the the furthest thing from your mind, but it might be the best thing for you. If you allow yourself to sleep on the issue, the answer will come to you.

A study in Memory and Cognition found that people perform problem-solving tasks more effectively after sleep.[1] The effectiveness of sleep in the problem solving equation may be related to a psychological concept called the “Incubation Effect.” The Incubation Effect, put forth by Graham Wallas in 1926, suggests that the brain is more effective at overcoming obstacles when it is given time to rest.[2]

If you have ever been unable to produce an answer to a question that you should know only have the answer pop into your head in the middle of the night, you have experienced the Incubation Effect firsthand.

Psychologists aren’t sure if this happens because the brain is less distracted during sleep, or if the subconscious continues to work on the problem even when you aren’t consciously processing through it. Either way, science supports sleeping to solve complex problems.

Dreams will secretly inspire you

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries and artistic and literary masterpieces were inspired by dreams. For example, Otto Loewi discovered that nerve impulses were caused by chemicals during a series of dreams.[3]

When you sleep, your brain is able to process and consolidate the experiences you had when you were awake. Sleeping after you learn something new helps your brain encode the new information into your long-term memory.[4]

Beyond just processing information, certain phases of the sleep cycle are essential for problem solving. REM sleep stimulates associative networks to unlock new potential connections and solutions that may have gone unnoticed during your waking hours.[5]

Focusing on a problem intently can keep you from solving it

Your brain operates in two distinct modes: focused and diffused mode. Focused mode is the state in which you are actively concentrating on stimuli.[6] When you’re intent on finding an answer, your mind stays in focused mode. This can cause you to get tunnel vision, and it can make it impossible to think outside the box.

The phenomenon known as the Einstellung Effect can also prevent you from finding novel solutions to complex problems.[7] The Einstellung Effect arises when the information that you already know blocks your creativity and impedes innovation. As you gain experience with a certain type of problem, your brain attempts to run on autopilot instead of critically analyzing the issue.

When you get frustrated, it’s time to take a break

If you’re feeling stuck, it’s best to step back and take a break. Your frustration will only serve to block your ability to find a solution or make a decision. Allow yourself a solid night of sleep before you make your choice or attempt to solve your problem.

You’ll be amazed at how capable your brain is when you let it to work as it was meant to work. When you’ve hit a wall in your problem-solving process, stop thinking about it, and get some sleep.

It may be difficult to let the issue go, but you have everything you need within yourself already. You only need to give your mind the chance to work things out for you. Check out this article to fall asleep faster: 10 Simple Hacks To Fall Asleep In 30 Seconds, Backed By Science

Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

Reference

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