cartoon drawing of man struggling with a decision which is why you should sleep on it

5 reasons why you should sleep on it when making important decisions

By Jason Wooden, PhD | June 25, 2022

When you’re tired and stressed, your mind doesn’t work as well as it should which can lead to impaired judgement and poorer decision making.  What “sleeping on it” is really about is better outcomes because you’re making decisions under better circumstances.  After a night of restful sleep, it’ll be easier to think things through and you’ll approach your decision with an improved mood.

The thing about decisions and “sleeping on it”

To decide or not to decide, now that is the question

The average adult makes thousands of decisions every day ranging from the trivial to the more serious.

What this article is really focused on is the downsides of making important decisions when you’re over-tired and why it’s sometimes better to “sleep on it”.

Not the small stuff but the big stuff that can affect your life in important ways.

Major decisions can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming especially if your mind is racing with the possibilities.

Whether it’s accepting a new job, figuring out a relationship, dealing with a family issues, or struggling on what to do about something health related, making decisions when you’re strung out or fatigued can be even more challenging.

It can also lead to outcomes you don’t want.

The hope is that after a night of solid rest it will be easier to make sense of things with a refreshed and clearer mind.

Does sleeping on it really work?

Like many things in life, it all depends on your situation.

And yes, sometimes it’s better to come to a decision sooner rather than later.

However, let’s assume you can wait till the next day.

We’re going to look at what happens when you make decisions in the fog of fatigue and why it’s sometimes better to sleep on it.

The 5 reasons why you SHOULD sleep on it

When people say you should sleep on it, it’s not about magical hocus pocus that happens while you’re asleep.

It’s really about better outcomes because you’re making decisions under better circumstances.

We’ve all experienced at one time or another how different things in life looks after a night of rest.

And we’ve also seen how much easier it is to think too.

Unfortunately, we’re in the midst of a silent public health epidemic.  Every night one in three adults struggle with insomnia and wake up sleep-deprived.

That’s a ton of people living their waking hours overtired and extra stressed.  It’s likely more than a few of them are making important decisions when they’re not at their best.

 

Whether you’re physically, mentally, or emotionally drained, a night of restful sleep can make a BIG difference:

1) Your brain will work better

Let’s be honest.

When you’re behind the eight ball on sleep, your mind isn’t working as well as it should. It’s harder to focus and think clearly.

There’s growing research showing how sleep deprivation affects human cognitive functions such as working memory, learning, attention, AND decision-making.

Overall, what they’re confirming is that insufficient sleep can lead to impaired judgment and poorer decision making.

(One study found that sleep-deprived gamblers were more likely to expect gains and make light of losses.)

And would you believe studies have found that when you’re sleep-deprived what it does to your brain is the same as being drunk?

After sleeping on it, you’ll be able to focus and make your decision with a clearer mind.

2) Your outlook will be better

It’s obvious to most people that your outlook isn’t the same when you’re tired and stress.  Sleep-deprived people are moodier, more irritable, have a harder time coping, and our more like to feel down.

It’s also previous obvious how a negative outlook can affect how you think about an issue and possible outcomes.

Studies show people who sleep poorly have more negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and fewer positive moods.

After sleeping on it, you can at least make your decision with a less negative and hopefully more even outlook.

3) You won’t feel as stressed

When you’re over-tired, you’re also likely to be more stressed.  In fact, there’s a strong ping pong effect between stress and sleep where one can cause more of the other.

Unfortunately, stress can change how people make decisions:

Hopefully after sleeping on it, you’ll wake up less stressed, more relaxed, and can make a more balanced decision.

4) Work the problem while you’re asleep

Sleep helps your brain process stuff. We’ve all heard stories or even personally experienced getting a good idea after a good night’s sleep.

That means while you’re sleeping on your decision it can help facilitate problem solving.

5) Sleeping on it will buy you some time

You don’t want to be rushed into making a bad decision, especially if it’s in the heat of the moment.

Sometimes, a little extra time allows you to think things through some more and come to a better decision.  You may realize there’s a resource, person, or something else you haven’t considered.

 

What to try if you’ve decided to sleep on it but can’t fall asleep

Okay, it should be clear by now why sometimes the best thing you can do is to sleep on it.  You might be thinking easier said than done.

photo of worried man awake in bed

We’ve all had nights when a decision is pretty heavy on the mind and it’s a struggle to fall asleep.  After all, how’s one to settle down when your mind is racing through the possibilities or you’re feeling unsettled about things?

 

The good news is they’re plenty of practical things that can make the transition to sleep easier if you’re having a tough night:

photo showing excessive light in bedroom

1) Make sure your bedroom is fine tuned for sleep

A poor environment will make sleep even harder to come by.  As a rule, your sleeping space should be dark, quiet, and cool.

photo of man in bed looking at social media on phone

2) Avoid making things worse

Doing the wrong activities in the evening to pass the time can actually make it harder to fall asleep.  What you want to avoid is anything too stimulating that may get you even more wired up.

Yes, I’m talking things like social media, suspenseful movies, and watching the news.

Also, you want to avoid eating foods that interfere with sleep such as caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and unhealthy snacks.

And stay away from bright electronic screens (TVs, tablets, smartphone) – the bright light signals your brain it’s time to wake up.

 

 photo of person reading which can help you relax before sleeping on it

3) Do a sleep-friend activity that can aid the transition to sleep

There are plenty of ways to unwind at bedtime that can help prepare your mind and body for sleep.  Among your options are light reading, light music, relaxation exercises, and working on a puzzle.

More sleep-friendly ways to relax at night

 photo of young woman writing in journal to help her sleep on it

4) Write it down

Sometimes the best way to keep those squirrels from running around your head and keeping you up is to get your thoughts on paper.

Your options include:

Making a list

Try outlining the issues, pros & cons, and possible outcomes.  This can give you a clearer idea of what you’re up against and getting organized sometimes provides a sense of peace.

Journaling

It’s a great way to sort through feelings and jumbled thoughts.  Learn more

 

Helpful tips to aid making a decision

We’ve talked about how getting a good night sleep and waking up more refreshed can make a difference.

Besides sleeping on it, some other things that can help the decision making process include:

  • seeking out quiet space away from distractions
  • sorting things out on paper
  • being clear on your goals and desired outcome
  • being clear on your values
  • considering all the possibilities
  • gathering information and facts
  • carefully weighing the pros & cons

Sources:

1. “1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep”, CDC website

2. Sleep Deprivation Is Associated with Attenuated Parametric Valuation and Control Signals in the Midbrain during Value-Based Decision Making. Journal of Neuroscience 16 May 2012, 32 (20) 6937-6946.

3. “Sleep Deprivation Can Threaten Competent Decision-making”, 2007, ScienceDaily

4. “Sleep Deprivation Has The Same Effect as Drinking Too Much, Says Study”, 2017, science alert

5. “Mood and sleep”, Better Health Channel

6. “A Brain-Changer: How Stress Redesigns our Decision-Making”, The Decision Lab

7. “Stress can lead to risky decisions”, 2017, MIT News

8. “Stress Changes How People Make Decisions”, 2012, Association for Psychological Science

9. Sleep on it, but only if it is difficult: effects of sleep on problem solving. Mem Cognit. 2013 Feb;41(2):159-66.

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