Thinking as you sleep: Why you’re smarter than you thought

You’ve heard those three little words often enough when faced with intractable problems or big decisions: ‘Sleep on it’. It sounds very much like no more than ‘putting it off’, but there’s a very helpful logic behind it, and Solo Expenses would like to help you to exploit for yourself, proving that you’re actually smarter than you thought…

Do you ever think of nothing? Are there times when you brain is idling away in neutral? Or are you one of those people whose mind is active all the time, with thoughts constantly jostling each other like maniacal Black Friday shoppers, clamouring for your attention?

Chances are that each of us is like the latter for most of the time. Experts are divided about just how many thoughts we have during the course of the day, but no-one pitches the figures below 12,000. That’s an awful lot of thinking; stacks of information to process, however you look at it.
But stop and think. Oops, there’s another one. Stop and think for a moment. Would you try to make a major expense management decision whilst fighting through a crowd of people trying to get their hands on a cheap Black Friday TV? Of course not, because the answer you’d come up with would have a strong chance of being flawed. You’d get out of the melee and seek out some peace and quiet where you could hear yourself think about money management. And where better than in bed? Asleep.

Let’s hear it for the brain

The human brain is a phenomenal thing. How else would it have conceived of the internal combustion engine, expense management apps like Solo Expenses, or cheese in an aerosol can? (That’s a powerful imagination right there. Who imagined there would ever be a need for jet-propelled cheese?)

But let’s get back to sleeping on stuff. When you set aside the ‘here and now’ like ringing phones, reading emails, listening to colleagues, watching out for your stop on the train, and the stone in your shoe, then you really can hear yourself think, arriving at answers you wouldn’t otherwise have dreamed of. When you can hear yourself think is when the timid good ideas and wisdom – and they’re there already, believe us – can tiptoe forward and tug gently at the sleeve of your consciousness, asking to be let in. It’s just a case of creating the right conditions.

How to let ideas come to you

1. Isolate: Don’t bring the Black Friday shopaholics into the bedroom with you. Have no TV in there; no radio, stereo or phone. (Don’t give me that old hooey about the phone being your alarm; turn it off and get a proper alarm clock).

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2. Sshhh…: Silence is golden. If you share a bed with an industrial-strength snorer, take yourself to another room where the good ideas won’t be scared by the noise.

3. Make it dark: Get some thick curtains, and pull them firmly together. Avoid chinks of light around the edges if you can. Have blackout curtains for the light summer evenings.

4. No fries with that: Don’t eat too late in the evening, and lay off the spicy and fatty foods. Even cheese will mess with your brain.

5. None for the road: Alcohol will mess up your sleeping rhythms if taken to excess. (Though we know of at least one elderly gentleman who was advised by his Doctor to have a small Scotch last thing at night to help him drop off). Any drink containing caffeine will blunt your chances of a good sleep too.

6. Have a bath: This is all about body temperature. A bath will raise yours, and when you climb into bed your temperature will gently drop as the need for sleep rises; when they meet is when you’ll fall asleep. Being too warm or cold in bed will prevent you from sleeping properly too, but it’s best to get that right before you go to sleep, rather than waking up and having to sort it out in the middle of the night.

7. Get off the rocking horse: It’s said that worry is like a rocking horse because it gives you something to do without taking you anywhere. Try to put the causes of worry aside. Surprisingly, writing them down can help, because you don’t have to carry them in your head. If poor expense management has brought you to a dark place, you can do nothing about it during the night, so it’s best to try to sleep. Who knows; setting worry aside might make space for a solution to come forward!
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8. Pad it out: You may find that an idea or solution comes to you in the wee small hours, and snaps you awake. Have a pad and pencil beside the bed so you can write it down to refresh your ‘daytime mode’ brain in the morning, when the whole here and now thing has started again. Once it’s written down, it’s a safe bet you’ll soon be asleep again.

Keep telling yourself you already know the answer, because you probably do. All you have to do is create the right conditions for it to come to you. Do that often enough, and you could find it’s life changing. We’ve seen our way through lots of tough times simply by going to sleep as we’ve described. Who’d have thought it possible?