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Future Health

Problem Solving While You Sleep

June 13, 2017 

New research shows that you can get a boost in solving difficult problems by “preloading” your dilemma, then go to bed, and when you wake you will come to the solution more easily. That is, the adage that you should “sleep on it” actually works.


Preloading is a new concept based on a biological process in the brain that transfers information from the hippocampus to the neocortex. The hippocampus is the region of the brain where recent experiences and memories are stored, and the neocortex is where long-term memories are stored.


Sleeping improves the integration between these two brain centers, allowing us to more efficiently transfer information so that when we tackle a difficult problem the next day, in essence we have been “ruminating” or brainstorming subconsciously for several hours.


A professor at Lancaster University in England led the study that involved volunteer subjects who were tested on their problem-solving abilities before and after preloading. In addition, they were compared with a group that did not preload.


The results were clear: the group that used preloading as a means to enhance performance solved a series of complex problems at a much higher rate than the group that did not preload.


The groups also addressed simple problems. For this test, the same two standards of measure were used to compare performance – time taken to complete, and percentage of those able to complete the tasks. Researchers concluded that preloading is only effective for tackling tasks of high complexity.


The benefits of this method of enhancement may also be applicable to other areas of behavioral psychology such as increasing performance on sports activities and work projects – for example, preloading the day before a game or a presentation.


Needless to say, this is also a good method to use before an exam. If you preload several days before an examination rather than only once the day before, the memory retention is exponentially increased.


To try preloading, follow these simple steps:

  • Identify the goal or problem that you want to solve
  • Put your goal or problem in writing
  • Review it carefully and think about possible solutions
  • Get a good night’s sleep


These steps could make the difference in your academic, work, or sports performance.