Are you staying up burning the midnight oil to solve your problems? If you are, you might want to reconsider and heed some age-old advice: sleep on it.
Your brain is designed to help you solve problems during sleep. One of its functions is to find and link information so you’ve got a better handle on everything you’ve learned during the day.
It might not seem like it, but you might actually want to relax and turn the lights out for good sleep when faced with a pressing decision.
When you’re awake and attempting to navigate a problem, what do you do? Make a list of pros and cons to assess the best approach. But too much thinking can lead to problems; it’s a deep dark hole.
Are you adequately ranking the importance of each factor? Have you looked at it from every possible angle?
Overthinking can easily take over and add stress to make the decision even more difficult.
But when you go to sleep, your brain naturally triages. It picks specific information, links it, and helps you come to the right decision.
Sleep is unique with this ability because it shuts down your prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that handles executive decision-making like rational thought and impulse control. It essentially allows for free association, getting rid of critical thought and categories.
During REM sleep, you go through another adaptation to help with decision-making. Neuromodulators like norepinephrine shut off. When turned on, you’re better able to focus on immediate and concrete problems. So, REM essentially sets the stage for some free association as well.
After a good night’s sleep, you’re likely to wake up and feel your “gut” telling you to move one way or the other. You may even think the answer just came to you. But maybe your brain was just doing its job while you slept.
If you’re struggling with decisions, take a break from thinking. Relax, get yourself ready for bed, and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll be in a different place when you wake up.