The Scientific Rationale for ‘Sleeping on It’

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Researchers out of Amsterdam have proven that when you are faced with an important decision, it truly is better to “sleep on it.” As it turns out, delaying your verdict until the following morning isn’t just a way of eluding the issue at hand for 10 more hours — scientifically speaking, it will also help you to reach the most favorable decision.

 The idea behind this is called “unconscious deliberation,” and it goes like this: when big decisions loom, such as buying a house, accepting a job offer, or purchasing a new car, it’s best to research your options and then forget about the situation for a while. The best time to forget about it is during the night, when you sleep.

 During the night hours, when you are sleeping, the scientists say that your unconscious will mull over your options. This unconscious form of decision making can lead to a more satisfying choice than if you were to come to your final decision consciously.

 For small issues, such as what to order for dinner or what film to see, there is no need to sleep on it, obviously. But for bigger dilemmas, sleeping on it may lead to a better outcome.

 The Dutch researchers did a series of studies that focused on consumer choice, which were conducted both in the laboratory and in retail stores. One test involved choosing automobiles. First, the consumers read complex facts about the different cars they were considering buying. Then, the researchers gave them puzzles to occupy their conscious mind.

 After the puzzle portion of the test was over, the consumers made a decision on the car. Researchers found that the participants who allowed their unconscious mind to deliberate on the options had a greater sense of satisfaction with their choice than did those who decided on a car only after reading the fact sheets.

 There could be a few reasons for this. Researchers say that your conscious mind has a “low capacity” for considering all possible facts. The result is that you take into account only certain factors, certain bits of relevant information (e.g. in car buying, perhaps the cost, the strength of the engine, and the mileage), and end up basing your decisions on these factors. It means that you might put inappropriate weight on how important these details are.

 However, then your subconscious, they believe, has a bigger capacity to consider more pieces of relevant information. Thus, by considering more options, you can make better choices.

 It might seem hard to believe that your brain is at work when you are not consciously aware of it, but science has long determined that this is true. And now researchers say that complex decisions should be left to unconscious thought — or ‘sleeping on it’ — in order to reach the best choice.




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