If you’ve ever said you'd "sleep on it" before making an important choice, you might have been on to something. According to new research, taking a little catnap may help you pick the best option when faced with a challenging decision.
The October 2018 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research measured changes in people's brain activity and responses before and after a nap. In the experiment, 16 healthy participants practiced tasks and then either stayed awake or took a 90-minute nap before trying the tasks again. Results showed that the small amount of sleep actually made a big difference for the folks who took a nap: Hitting the hay improved their processing speed when it came to info that was presented very briefly or even "masked" in an earlier task.
Researchers said the findings suggest that just a short snooze can have some pretty darn impressive benefits for cognitive brain function. Apparently, we can process info we’re not consciously aware of while we sleep — even if we only catch a couple zzzs. Furthermore, this napping period can also assist us when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of a decision, as well as gaining more insight about our potential choices and their outcomes. We can only imagine how that could've come in handy for some tricky decisions we've made in the past!
"The findings are remarkable in that they can occur in the absence of initial intentional, conscious awareness, by processing of implicitly presented cues beneath participants' conscious awareness,” said study author Liz Coulthard, PhD, in a press release. "Further research in a larger sample size is needed to compare if and how the findings differ between ages, and investigation of underlying neural mechanisms.”
It's worth keeping in mind that there are countless factors that go into making an important decision, and you shouldn't expect that a nap alone will immediately give you the answer. That said, it certainly can't hurt to try the "sleep on it" strategy after "thinking on it" for so long. In any case, we think this is the perfect excuse to take a nap the next time you need one.