Before You Make an Important Decision, Science Says It May be Best to Sleep On It
When it is difficult to make an important decision, especially about something that may impact your life, you may want to sleep on it. It’s logical to assume that it is easier for a rested brain to evaluate choices and make a decision. But come to find out, your brain actually makes some of its own decisions while you sleep. As well, sleep helps the brain process your emotions about a situation, so you are less irrational in your decision making.
Parts of the Brain that Impede Decision Making
During our awake hours, we are consistently making choices. There are times when we’re on automatic pilot, like making the morning coffee or driving to work. But most of the day we have to make decisions about what we want to wear and eat, what we want to do that day, how to tackle work and life situations, etc.
Your personality and society are big influences when it comes to decisions. So are all of the beliefs that you’ve formed based on your interactions with others. Essentially, all that makes you who you are will impact what choices your make in life – big or small.
Unfortunately, all of this personality, emotion, conditioning, etc, can make decision making difficult. When it’s time to make a choice, all of the voices in your head have an opinion. All your doubts, beliefs and aspirations argue their case in the silent battle within the mind.
The Unconscious Mind at Work
What happens when you sleep is that all of this personality and programming that makes you, you, are shut off. When the conscious mind sleeps, the unconscious mind starts to pilfer through everything that happened during your day.
Researchers Sid Kouider and Thomas Andrillon at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris in France were able to show that this “unconscious” brain actually continues to respond and process information, even when a person is asleep. In their study, they asked test subjects to press either a left or right button based on the type of word they heard. Initially, the subjects were awake. The researchers used an EEG scan to observe the activity in the brain immediately before each subject pressed the correct button to give the response.
The researchers continued to prompt the subjects with new words, even after the subject fell asleep. (The participants were laying down in a dark room.) The EEG showed that the brain continued to process the meaning of the new words and to prepare for either left or right button response. Of course, the subjects didn’t press any button because they were asleep. This study was published in Current Biology.
This study shows clearly that the unconscious mind is still processing information from the outside world, even while you sleep. It may be beneficial to reflect about a decision calmly before going to sleep. Perhaps the unconscious mind will work things out for you.
A Nightly Makeover
It’s well known that the brain gets a makeover every time you sleep. During sleep, support cells in the brain clear away residue left over from the day. The brain’s support cells, called glial cells clear out worn out neurons and old, unnecessary synapses, or connections, between neurons.
Not only is the brain busy cleaning. It also integrates new information that we learned during the day. As it gets rid of the old, it also builds new synapses.
Furthermore, the brain helps integrate emotional experiences into context and produce appropriate responses. Research by Matthew Walker, Director of University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, showed that “sleep deprivation does the opposite by excessively boosting the part of the brain most closely connected to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.” (source)
Consequently, a good night’s sleep may help your brain process your emotions about a situation. Instead of making a knee-jerk response or being irrational when making a choice, your brain will be ready to make choices that are more sensible.
The idea of having the brain suss things out while you sleep isn’t new. Alexander Graham Bell was a firm believer is making the unconscious mind work for you:
I am a believer in unconscious cerebration. The brain is working all the time, though we do not know it. At night, it follows up what we think in the daytime. When I have worked a long time on one thing, I make it a point to bring all the facts regarding it together before I retire; and I have often been surprised at the results. (source)
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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