Could a lack of sleep make you a winner at work? Possibly, says a surprising new study that compared problem solving skills with the number of hours slept
Driving, eating junk food, and online shopping are just a few of the things you should avoid if you're sleep-deprived, according to researchers. (Hmmm...that could explain the neon-print mohair stilettos that showed up via express shipping two days after you don't remember ordering them.) But a new study has found that there's one thing we actually do better when we're tired: insightful problem solving. And the scientists say you can work the effect to your advantage—so even though those heels aren't returnable, you can at least clock some extra overtime hours to pay for them.
Problems come in two main varieties: Analytical, like math or computer problems that have one right answer, and insight-based problems, which require a creative solution. And our brains have different ways of dealing with each type of issue. Researchers from Albion University looked at nearly 500 students and discovered that while analytical problems are best worked on when you're at your sharpest mentally, people do better with insightful issues when they're, well, not at their best. In fact, the tired students performed 20 percent better than the well-rested ones.
Mareike Wieth, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study explained that when you're exhausted, you have lower inhibitions and are more willing to consider alternative perspectives and solutions you might have otherwise disregarded. Plus, your brain is more likely to wander when you're tired—and it turns out all that lack of focus can be great for sparking creativity. (Find out What Really Happens When You're Sleep Deprived.)
"You're having other random thoughts, like 'I had a fight this morning,' or 'I have to pick up milk.' That random thought can combine with your main thought and come up with something creative," Wieth said to The Atlantic. "At your optimal time of day, you're not going to have that random thought."
You can use this to your benefit, Weith said, by flopping your natural schedule. "There's more awareness and more research coming out that shows that it's beneficial to tailor when you work on certain tasks," she said. So you could try journaling in the morning, if you're naturally a night owl, or trouble-shooting your relationship at night, if you're normally a morning lark.
And the next time your boss questions your under-eye bags, just tell him some problems are best solved on little sleep.