Sleeping on it actually won’t help you make better decisions in the morning

Image: Reuters/Bruno Domingos
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Whether it’s an important career change, an overdue confrontation, or just a minor decision you’ve been putting off for a while, any hesitation—once expressed to others—will usually be met with the eternal advice: “Just sleep on it.”

Wake up in the morning, everyone knows, and you’ll be able to make a better choice.

But perhaps not, suggests a new research paper forthcoming in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. The study’s authors—Harvard Business school marketing professor Uma Karmarkar, University of Massachusetts-Amherst psychology professor Rebecca Spencer, and Stanford Graduate School of Business marketing professor Baba Shiv—tested the sleep-centered adage by asking graduate students to choose between four similar laptop bags, then studying their final choice after either a night of sleep or a day without sleep.

Those who slept on the decision were able to remember more positive attributes about all the bags in general—but they actually felt less certain about their choice of bag than those who hadn’t slept. Though sleep has many fine physiological benefits, boosting decision-making ability does not appear to be among them.

“Nothing about sleeping on it makes you feel better,” Karmarkar said in a Harvard Business School release. “If you are trying to make people feel more confident and rule out options, there could be some benefit to stepping away for a period—but not necessarily sleeping on it.”

Granted, the study focused on a relatively impersonal subject (laptop bags) and used a relatively homogenous participant group (graduate students). Its suggestion that sleep isn’t always the solution, however, may well be worth considering next time you’re faced with a tough call.