Sleep Yourself Happy: Get the Rest of Your Life
It Helps You Solve All Kinds of Problems
Obviously, you can think about a vexing issue more clearly when you're well rested. But when you sleep on it, your brain actually has the opportunity to work things out from a different perspective. That's because sleep gives your conscious mind a break and lets the subconscious take a whack at finding a solution, says Rosalind Cartwright, PhD, author of Crisis Dreaming: Using Your Dreams to Solve Your Problems.
You've probably experienced this phenomenon if you've ever tried (with growing frustration) to remember the name of, say, that red-haired actress ... you know the one ... you just saw her in Julie & Julia. You can picture her face; you just can't think of her name. Argh. But go to sleep and bingo! "In the morning you've got it," Dr. Cartwright says. Of course, Amy Adams!
No one knows for certain why this happens, but scientists suspect that, during sleep, the brain lets go of extraneous details and holds on to central facts. So rather than considering everything you know about her -- what she wore in the movie, whom she has dated, what other films you saw her in -- your sleeping mind focuses on the essential facts, like her face and name. That makes the information much easier to retrieve when you wake up.
Another way you problem-solve in your sleep: You actually dream up solutions to problems. One reason this happens is that the self-censoring side of the brain -- the part that says That's dumb, it'll never work! -- isn't as active at night, so we're able to think more freely. "When you're awake, you usually think with the logical side of your brain, but when you're dreaming you think with the more intuitive, imagery-based part of it, and that gives you a different perspective," says Deirdre Barrett, PhD, author of The Committee of Sleep.
Some people say they've solved practical dilemmas in their dreams, like how to rearrange the living-room furniture or which jacket to wear with that new skirt. But dreaming can help with larger issues. Dr. Cartwright recalls a time when she was contemplating a job offer. She had a dream one night in which she was literally up in the air. Then she floated down onto a throne and was crowned. "I woke up saying, 'I'm going to accept the position,'" laughs Dr. Cartwright.