Often, when we have a big decision to make or are facing a challenge people will say, “Why don’t you sleep on it and see how you feel in the morning?” It is an interesting turn of phrase and one we accept in everyday life. But what does it mean, does it work and is there any real science behind it?
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly given the weight of personal experience, the science is pretty solid on the subject. Various practical studies have demonstrated that our unconscious minds seem to unravel mysteries or dig deeper into our thoughts to find answers while we sleep. It is a kind of defrag for the brain that makes everything work a little clearer and smoother.
Can sleep be used as a tool for optimum performance?
Once again, there is ample evidence that a good night’s sleep does more than simply refresh your body and mind. It seems that it can make you better prepared for the day ahead.
The sleep scientist, Nathaniel Kleitman, who first discovered the concept of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and identified the five stages of the ‘rest-activity cycle,’ did lots of work in this area. His research showed that there are different periods of the day when people were more alert, mentally and physically, or more prone to lapses in concentration. These periods work differently for different people (hence your morning people and your night owl types) but they always occur in cycles – with highs and lows throughout the day. Likewise, as we sleep, the REM part of the cycle, in particular, plays a key part in resetting, reallocating or just simply realigning our thoughts.
I think most people would agree from their own personal experience that ‘a good night’s sleep’ can make a world of difference to the following day.
So, here is my top practical tip for sleep-planning.
One of my favourite tricks for starting the day well is to plan it the day before. Most people, particularly self-employed people who don’t necessarily have the support of a PA or administration team behind them, rely a lot on lists. They will start the day with a ‘to do’ list in the morning and tick off the things on it that they like doing, ignoring many of the angst-generating tasks. This becomes the pattern and it is generally quite effective (despite the fact that horrible jobs often get passed to the next day).
To employ the full power of your subconscious brain, however, why not try writing your list at the end of the day you’ve just finished – rather than in the morning? This will do two things.
Firstly, it will save you a lot of wasted time trying to re-engage after all of the things that happened between finishing work and starting again the next day. You will find that the time to write your list, while you are still in work-mode, is significantly faster than it takes the following morning.
Secondly, the magic of your brain working behind the scenes (as you snuggle down that night) might just come up with the answer to one of the less desirable items on your list while you are ‘sleeping on it’.
Try it and let me know how you get on…