Problem solving whilst you sleep

Writing   /  

Prompted by an article written this week by Wonder Woman, I began to ponder about problem solving using your subconscious, rather than your conscious mind. It is often said that human beings only use about ten percent of our brains capacity. Could it be that we only use this amount because we measure brain activity only when we are awake. That we consider the time we spend sleeping as ‘downtime’?

If that is the case, it is entirely possible that we are missing a trick. For example, have you ever set your ‘body clock’ to wake you in the morning instead of the screeching alarm clock? Many times, being the perpetual pessimist I use both, setting the clock alarm to say 6.30am and setting my body clock to 6.00am. I can’t remember an occasion when I have done this and it hasn’t worked. Come 6am eyes pop open, quick scramble to see what time it is and sure enough, it’s 30 minutes before the safety alarm is due to go off.

There is a drawback that I will admit to, most often after waking, I become complacent and ‘snooze’ wasting the extra time that my own personal alarm has given me, instead of getting up and doing something useful, say writing an early morning post on my blog.

This however does bring me back to the main point I was trying to make. I do believe you can problem solve whilst in slumber. The steps I use are

  1. Have a hot bath to relax and settle into your bed
  2. Outline the problem to be solved in your mind
  3. Set the goal you are trying to achieve
  4. Think about the steps you have already taken to work the problem out, and perhaps the reasons why you think they may not work
  5. Settle down and drift off to sleep

I have found that at some point during that sleep, my brain works on the problem and presents a potential solution. Now, here’s the tricky part (especially if you are someone who likes your sleep). As soon as you realise that a solution has been presented, wake yourself up and record all that you can remember!

Unless you are someone who is blessed with total recall, the likelihood is that the solution will have disappeared by morning and you would have forgotten everything your subconscious granted you, apart from the niggling feeling that you had in fact thought of a solution.

Write it down, or record it on your MP3 player or Dictaphone. You could even send yourself a voicemail using your mobile phone. The important thing is to do it as soon as you are awake, even if you cannot remember every single detail, try to recall all the salient points as they will act as pointers that you can use later to fill out with details.

If you do this enough, perhaps you will be one of those who increase the percentage ratio of capacity to usage from 10 to 12.5

Ciao 4 Now


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  1. Church of Integrity /

    Interesting idea. I have indeed gotten up on my own will but it only happens when I’m excited about something. I can vouch though that sleeping on problems works wonders, I don’t know how many problems I’ve solved that way.

  2. bloggingzoom.com /

    Can we really solve problems when we sleep?…

    Is it true that when you are sleeping, you could make better use of you unconscious mind to solve problems experienced in the waking hours? If you worry about ways to drive traffic to your Blog, perhaps whilst ‘sleeping on it’ you could come up with …

  3. Colin King /

    I haven’t used an alarm clock for around 40 years. I am one of those that can remember a dream only once in a blue moon and it’s usually just before or as I wake. So I do things a little differently. I usually work the hard problems in the evening, that night I leave the tv on, this takes my mind off the problem, otherwise I would never get to sleep. Next morning, the solution “comes” to me, usually while I’m having breakfast.

  4. Stirlyn /

    Hi Colin, you’re right to note that different techniques work for different people. It would be interesting to out what works for other people.I find that dreams come and go. For a period I will dream every night and have many dreams per night, other times I sleep dreamlessly.

  5. ジェイソン (Jason) /

    I’ve used sleep to solve complex database and programming problems for years. Oddly enough, in the unreal world of sleep, the incredibly complex can become the incredibly simple 😛

    Quite often I would take my 3 am scribblings to work and code up a solution to a business problem only to have my peers look at it and shake their head in disbelief. This tactic alone helped me quickly rise through the ranks at my last job. Not that it does me much good with my new one … 😕

  6. Tim E. /

    I always wake up minutes before the clock. I only set it as a ‘backup’. I have never used sleep to solve problems, so maybe I should give it a try.

  7. Sleep Tips /

    I’ve been doing it for years and found that my best ideas/solution come during sleep. It gives me a new perspective on thing’s that I wouldn’t have even considered while awake.

    Really gives meaning to “sleep on it”

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