Skip to content
Surprising Science

Sleepy or Drunk? You’re Ready to Problem Solve!

Grogginess is a virtue when it comes to finding creative solutions to tricky problems. Lack of concentration frees your mind to create new associations that may yield an important new insight.

What’s the Latest Development?

In a scientific study, college students were asked to solve a brain teaser early in the morning and late at night to measure problem solving abilities relative to alertness levels. Prior to answering the riddle, most students self-identified as night owls, implying they would be better equipped to answer the question in the evening when they were more alert. “A man has married 20 women in a small town. All of the women are still alive and none of them are divorced. The man has broken no laws. Who is the man?” Answer: a priest.

What’s the Big Idea?

To the researchers’ surprise, more students solved the riddle when they were still half asleep at 9 AM than in the evening session. Similar results have been found with alcohol, i.e. that intoxicated people can solve creative problems better than sober ones. The moral of the story is that concentration does not come without its down side. While an alert and sober person may solve an algebra equation faster, their singular focus keeps them from considering information not directly relevant to a problem, missing out on creative solutions.

Photo credit:


Up Next