Turns out the old adage "sleep on it" may actually have some merit, at least according to a new study from the UK's Lancaster University.
Announced Friday, the study tested whether sleep or time spent awake was best in finding a solution to difficult problems. Researchers analyzed data from 27 men and 34 women who were asked to attempt verbal insight problems of varying degrees of difficulty, followed by a period of sleep, time spent awake, or no time delay at all. Then, subjects reattempted previously unsolved problems. While researchers found no difference between the groups for the easier problems, the sleep group solved a greater number of difficult problems than did the others.
The results were published online in the journal Memory & Cognition.
"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," says lead researcher Dr. Padraic Monaghan. "Sleep has been proposed to 'spread activation' to the solution that is initially distant from our first attempts at the problem." The takeaway: if you're stuck, get some sleep, he adds.
Prior research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has shown the positive benefits of sleep, or even short naps, when it comes to creative problem-solving.