Study shows old adage 'sleep on it' is true - but only if it's a really difficult problem

A new study from Lancaster University has found that sleeping on a problem really can help people to find a solution.

The study, published online this week in the journal & Cognition, tested whether sleep or time spent awake worked best in helping people find the solutions to a range of problem solving tasks.

Participants in the study - 27 men and 34 women - were asked to attempt easy and difficult verbal insight problems and, following a period of sleep, time spent wake, or no delay at all, the three groups of participants reattempted previously unsolved problems.

The sleep group solved a greater number of difficult problems than did the other groups, but no difference was found for easy
problems.

The authors of the study - Ut Na Sio, Padraic Monaghan and Tom Ormerod all from the Centre for Research in Human Development and Learning at Lancaster's Department of Psychology - concluded that sleep facilitates problem solving but this has its primary effect for harder problems.

Professor Padraic Monaghan said: "We've known for years that sleep has a profound effect on our ability to be creative and find new solutions to problems. Our study shows that this sleep effect is greatest when the problems facing us are difficult. Sleep appears to help us solve problems by accessing information that is remote to the initial problem, that may not be initially brought to mind. Sleep has been proposed to 'spread activation' to the solution that is initially distant from our first attempts at the problem. The advice stemming from this and related research is to leave a problem aside if you're stuck, and get some if it's a really difficult problem."

More information: Memory and Cognition journal: www.springerlink.com/content/7… xn5815616nwl/?MUD=MP

Related Stories

Sleep can boost classroom performance of college students

Jun 14, 2011

Sleep can help college students retain and integrate new information to solve problems on a classroom exam, suggests a research abstract that will be presented Tuesday, June 14, in Minneapolis, Minn., at SLEEP 2011, the 25th ...

Rotating shift workers have lower levels of serotonin

Aug 01, 2007

People who work rotating shifts have significantly lower levels of serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter in the central nervous system believed to play an important role in the regulation of sleep, according to a study ...

Sleep problems may affect a person's diet

Jun 11, 2007

Sleep problems can influence a person’s diet. Those who don’t get enough sleep are less likely to cook their own meals and, instead, opt to eat fast food. It is the lack of nutritional value of this restaurant-prepared ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers copy their peers to fit in, but apes don't

11 hours ago

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human ...

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

12 hours ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

12 hours ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.