Sleep On It

29 Jun

“Sleep on it, and let me know tomorrow”

A sentence used commonly, means you don’t have to make an immediate decision; take your time to think about it. Taking time to think about an idea or a plan sometimes might help, but what about sleeping? Literally sleeping, when we can’t think? Shouldn’t I be working on my idea the whole night instead of wasting time sleeping?

The importance of a good night’s sleep is lost on most of us. We prefer to watch TV, surf the Internet, read books, or do any other activity. And the next morning, when we have to get up to go to work, the alarm clock becomes our worst enemy. So why do we need to sleep? The answer lies in how we have evolved over millions of years. The humans had existed millions of years before fire was discovered. Our ancestors did not have anything to do once it was dark, so they went to sleep, and woke up at dawn. This gave their bodies time to rest and recover for the next day of hunting and other strenuous physical activity. Sleeping at night is hardwired into our brains. But does sleeping help with any cognitive activity?

It’s counterintuitive to think that our brains are very active even after our bodies have gone to sleep. The brain keeps processing the day’s information, consolidating our thoughts, building and killing neurons, and making connections. Connections between similar as well as disparate thoughts and ideas. When we are not able to solve a problem, sleeping helps us come up with new insights to solve that problem, or at least take us a step further toward solving the problem.

Research on creativity has shown that sleeping helps people become more creative (in addition to taking a walk, showering, socializing, and yes, drinking alcohol). When spending hours analyzing an issue doesn’t help and we are stuck, sleeping usually helps when our brains process a lot of information and make connections.

The number of hours we need to sleep varies from person to person, but it’s usually 20 hours for infants, 9.25 hours for teenagers, and 7-8 hours for adults. Sound and enough sleep is very beneficial to physical, psychological, and neurological health too.

When you are stuck working on a creative task or solving a problem, sleep on it.

Suggested Readings
Forget A’s, B’s, and C’s—What Students Need Is More Zzzz’s
Experiments Show We Really Can Learn While We Sleep

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