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Vexing problem could be better solved if one «sleeps on it»: study

20 October 2019 16:20

CHICAGO. KAZINFORM People actually might solve a problem better if they «sleep on it,» a study of Northwestern University (NU) showed.

The study, posted on NU website on Thursday, provided important information about information processing during sleep, as well as incubation for problem solving -- why we sometimes solve a problem better after a break, Xinhua reports.

In the study, people attempted several puzzles in the evening while listening to specific sound cues. While they slept, a program presented sounds associated with half the puzzles they had failed in the evening. The following morning participants solved the puzzles that had the associated sound cues played overnight better, compared to the puzzles that got no cues.

«This study provides yet more evidence that brain processing during sleep is helpful to daytime cognition,» said Mark Beeman, professor of psychology and a senior author of the study. «In this case, if you want to solve problems or make the best decisions, better to sleep on it than to be on Twitter at 3:00 a.m.»

The research is the first demonstration of actually improving problem solving by targeting memories for unsolved problems for extra processing during sleep. It strengthens the literature suggesting sleep reorganizes memory, and suggests that problem solving may benefit from sleep due to rehearsal and consolidation of problem memory.

However, the research may only apply to situations where people have the background information they need to solve the problem and just haven't found the right configuration yet.

«For example, no matter how much sleep I get, I'm not going to suddenly figure out black holes or find a cure for a rare disease, because I don't have the necessary background knowledge,» Beeman said.

If you've studied a problem thoroughly and are still stuck, however, thinking about it during a good night's sleep may be just the trick.

The study has been published online in Psychological Science.

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