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Published on October 6, 2017

Why Sleeping on a Difficult Problem Helps You Get the Answer

Why Sleeping on a Difficult Problem Helps You Get the Answer

We’ve all been faced with challenges and difficult choices. It can be tempting to agonize over the best response or obsess over a solution, but even with your best effort, you may not be able decide what to do.

The more you think about your problem, the more difficult it becomes to get the answer. You may feel frustrated as your desire to resolve the issue grows. Impatience sets in, and your brain gets more stuck than ever.

Soon you’re tired, cranky, and mentally exhausted because your mind has been running in circles all day. But sometimes the solution is as simple as sleeping on the problem.

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Stop spinning your wheels and go to sleep

In periods of high stress, taking a rest may be the the furthest thing from your mind, but it might be the best thing for you. If you allow yourself to sleep on the issue, the answer will come to you.

A study in Memory and Cognition found that people perform problem-solving tasks more effectively after sleep.[1] The effectiveness of sleep in the problem solving equation may be related to a psychological concept called the “Incubation Effect.” The Incubation Effect, put forth by Graham Wallas in 1926, suggests that the brain is more effective at overcoming obstacles when it is given time to rest.[2]

If you have ever been unable to produce an answer to a question that you should know only have the answer pop into your head in the middle of the night, you have experienced the Incubation Effect firsthand.

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Psychologists aren’t sure if this happens because the brain is less distracted during sleep, or if the subconscious continues to work on the problem even when you aren’t consciously processing through it. Either way, science supports sleeping to solve complex problems.

Dreams will secretly inspire you

Some of the greatest scientific discoveries and artistic and literary masterpieces were inspired by dreams. For example, Otto Loewi discovered that nerve impulses were caused by chemicals during a series of dreams.[3]

When you sleep, your brain is able to process and consolidate the experiences you had when you were awake. Sleeping after you learn something new helps your brain encode the new information into your long-term memory.[4]

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Beyond just processing information, certain phases of the sleep cycle are essential for problem solving. REM sleep stimulates associative networks to unlock new potential connections and solutions that may have gone unnoticed during your waking hours.[5]

Focusing on a problem intently can keep you from solving it

Your brain operates in two distinct modes: focused and diffused mode. Focused mode is the state in which you are actively concentrating on stimuli.[6] When you’re intent on finding an answer, your mind stays in focused mode. This can cause you to get tunnel vision, and it can make it impossible to think outside the box.

The phenomenon known as the Einstellung Effect can also prevent you from finding novel solutions to complex problems.[7] The Einstellung Effect arises when the information that you already know blocks your creativity and impedes innovation. As you gain experience with a certain type of problem, your brain attempts to run on autopilot instead of critically analyzing the issue.

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When you get frustrated, it’s time to take a break

If you’re feeling stuck, it’s best to step back and take a break. Your frustration will only serve to block your ability to find a solution or make a decision. Allow yourself a solid night of sleep before you make your choice or attempt to solve your problem.

You’ll be amazed at how capable your brain is when you let it to work as it was meant to work. When you’ve hit a wall in your problem-solving process, stop thinking about it, and get some sleep.

It may be difficult to let the issue go, but you have everything you need within yourself already. You only need to give your mind the chance to work things out for you. Check out this article to fall asleep faster: 10 Simple Hacks To Fall Asleep In 30 Seconds, Backed By Science

Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

Reference

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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