Got a Problem? Sleep on It

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SleepGot a difficult problem to solve? Get better results by sleeping on it.

What should you do when you are facing a particularly difficult problem, and need to find a way to solve it? One of the best things that you can do is sleep on it!

How Can Sleeping Help You Solve Difficult Problems?

Although it may sound absurd to some, sleeping can actually help people solve difficult problems. Studies indicate that sleeping facilitates the transfer of information from the hippocampus (the region of the brain where short-term memory is stored) to the neocortex (the region of the brain responsible for storing long-term memory).

The real magic happens when the information reaches the neocortex. During this time, the brain consolidates all these little pieces of information and associates them with all your other memories. This results in a more structured thought, a clearer memory and the ability to make better decisions.

This explains why people who address difficult problems head on often get poor results while those who had a chance to sleep on it fare better and get better results. However, it is interesting to note that this only works when addressing more complex problems since the same study shows that sleeping on minor problems does not make any difference.

Based on the results of another research conducted at the University of California in San Diego, there is a strong indication that the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep has the power to enhance a person’s creativity. During this phase (which dominates the latter half of sleep), significant brain wave spikes occur in the regions involved with vision, and the brain’s oxygen consumption increases. In fact, the energy consumption of the brain during this stage is significantly higher than what it consumes when you are awake and working on a difficult problem.

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Realizing the important role sleep plays in enhancing your creativity and helping you solve difficult problems, here are some tips that can help you sleep better through the night.

  • Jot it down. Write down your ideas or the problem you are working on right before going to bed, and do the same as soon as you wake up.
  • Take it seriously. Create a bedtime ritual and an ideal environment to induce sleep, and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Use earplugs and eye masks if you find difficulty getting and staying asleep.
  • Take a nap. Taking a nap can be as effective in improving your creativity as sleeping through the night. Some experts recommend taking a 20 to 30 minute nap during breaks while others say that taking a longer nap (60 to 90 minutes) can do wonders for your creativity.