In her New Yorker article “The Work We Do While We Sleep,” Maria Konnikova highlighted the importance of sleep to a successful work life. Her discussion with Harvard sleep scientist Robert Stickgold illuminated an argument that sleeping and dreaming “help us sift through material to isolate and store the important take-away, whether it is what he calls the ‘gist’…or a specific detail.”
A second experiment cited by Konnikova found that participants given a complex math problem were more than twice as likely as non-sleepers to find a shortcut to the answer after eight hours of sleep. Konnikova summarizes that “As we sleep, our brains replay, process, learn, and extract meaning. In a sense, they think.” These findings imply that the 30% of American workers who don’t get enough sleep miss out on important cognitive processes.
Despite findings that sleep is integral to optimal performance, new research from Harvard Business School debunks the age-old adage that it builds confidence around decision making. As Uma R. Karmarkar states, “Nothing about sleeping on it makes you feel better [about the decision you made], and it might make you feel worse.”
Instead, Karmarkar suggests the following, “If you are trying to make people feel more confident and rule out options, there could be some benefit to stepping away for a period, but not necessarily sleeping on it.” In summary: get a lot of sleep, but make important decisions first.