Practically every single time I have given in and ‘slept’ on a problem that seems insoluble, a creative solution would magically appear the next morning. But why can we sometimes solve a problem better after a break? Scientists have given the answer.
Brain processing during sleep can help daytime cognition
To better understand the link between sleeping and problem solving, the researchers conducted a study.
They asked people to solve several puzzles in the evening and played them specific sound cues. After they slept, the researchers played them the same sounds associated with the puzzles. In the next morning, it turned out that the participants solved those puzzles better.
This suggests that your brain will process the memories for unsolved problems during your sleep, and thus help you solve the problems better overnight.
Specifically, your brain will reorganize, rehearse and consolidate your memory of solving problems before you sleep, and find you a correct approach towards those seemingly insoluble problems.
"Problem solving is part of everyone's daily life. While we use tricky puzzles in our study, the underlying cognitive processes could relate to solving any problem on which someone is stuck or blocked by an incorrect approach," said Kristin Sanders, first author of the study.
You can only solve the problems you know about
Although sleeping on a problem can help you solve this problem better, you definitely can’t figure out the origin of the universe or find a cure for cancers if you are just a common person, as you lack the necessary background knowledge.
Still, if you have already thought over a problem but you cannot figure it out, sleeping on it can probably help you find a way out. After all, sleeping on it is always better than burning the midnight oil doing nothing.