Friday, 23 January, 2004

Sleep on it

I suspect everybody has, at one time or another, used the "sleep on it" method of solving a problem.  That is, faced with a difficult problem or decision, you give it some thought before going to sleep and wake up with the answer.  It's one of those things that "everybody knows," but nobody had ever researched.

Researchers at the University of Lubeck in Germany decided to put it to the test.  They devised an experiment in which groups of students were trained to perform a calculation using seven steps.  They weren't taught, though, a little secret that would allow them to perform the calculation almost instantly.  The students were trained, tested, and then retested after eight hours.  Half of the students were allowed to sleep during that eight hour period, and the others were awake.  During retesting, sixty percent of the students who slept discovered the secret rule.  Only 22 percent of the awake crowd discovered the rule.

You might be tempted to give these researchers the "Duh" award for discovering something that "everybody knows."  But it's good to put this kind of anecdotal knowledge to the test of science.  Perhaps researchers can discover the mechanism that makes it work.  From there, it's then possible to begin trying to activate that mechanism without having to crawl into bed and put the lights out.