Sleeping On It

I like sleeping on decisions. I think it leads to better decisions.

I am not in favor of delaying decisions, particularly hard ones. I want to make them and move on.

But making a decision and giving yourself 12 hours to “sit with it” really helps. Sleeping on it does that for you.

It also does something else, which is it lets your subconscious brain work on the problem overnight and you wake up with more clarity than when you went to bed. At least that is how it works for me

So “sleeping on it” literally means sleeping on it as well as buying a short amount of time to sit with the decision and make sure it feels right.

There are certainly times when you don’t have the luxury of taking the night to sit with a decision. In those moments, you need to deliberate with whatever your team is and make the call and execute. These are crisis driven decisions, war time stuff. There is no sleeping on them.

But when you have the luxury of a night to sleep on something, I would encourage everyone to take that time. It really helps.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. Ed Freyfogle

    Will let you know tomorrow whether or not I agree with your view

    1. JimHirshfield

      Well played Ed. Well played.

  2. pointsnfigures

    depending on the decision, might take a little longer…..two or three nights…

  3. LIAD

    One of the first tasks the new UK Prime Minister must do tomorrow after the Queen signs-off on her appointment is to write the “the letter of last resort”.It’s a sealed handwritten note delivered to the commanders of the UK’s Nuclear submarines and only to be opened in the event of a devastating nuclear attack on the UK if all it’s command and control functions have been obliterated.The note details the PMs nuclear response instructions. Options are thought to include: – Put yourself under the command of the US, if it is still there – Retaliate – Use your own judgmentWhilst a sealed letter handwritten by the PM herself is beautifully quant, especially when compared to the US version of the procedure, consider the magnitude of having to sit down and write it. “My instructions on what to do in case of Armageddon”That’s one decision the PM has to make tomorrow that she is not allowed to sleep on.#MADNESS

    1. PhilipSugar

      I seem to always happen to be in London when something political happens

    2. Paul Robert Cary

      Let’s hope that someone who has maintained a clear lead within her party for weeks has already thought about it and that there is a pretty standard template. 🙂

      1. LIAD

        sure, but she still has to sit down and write it out and sign it. – buck stops here.

        1. Paul Robert Cary

          That’s more of a “holy sh*t, this is real” moment versus making a decision about changing existing protocols.

        2. Sam

          Unless the UK puts itself under the command of the US. Then the buck stops with Hillary or Donald.

    3. Twain Twain

      Letters like these are often pre-remplated by the civil servants so Theresa May will be just fine.

      1. LIAD

        she needs to decide the response and she needs to write it out by hand.

        1. Jess Bachman

          “Handwriting poor… instructions unclear… annexing Puerto Rico”

          1. Twain Twain

            Lol, it would be Panama they’d annexe!

          2. LIAD

            can you even imagine the aggregate damage caused over the years by illegible handwriting

        2. Twain Twain

          Behind the scenes, there are lots of precedent documents that PMs and their advisors refer to. Little’s ever written or decided on-the-fly by one individual. They may just be the person who hand-writes or communicates it, but the meat of the document has already been scripted by precedent.

    4. ShanaC

      Functionally, there is a good reason for that. You can shoot before the day is out.Though truth be told, she can write it today, look it over and seal it tomorrow, and we won’t know the difference

    5. jason wright

      in quadruplicate.

  4. PhilipSugar

    I think it also lets your emotions settle. Any decision that is a tough decision has emotions involved. Easy decisions that can be reversed should be made immediately, but the tough ones are best to contemplate.Also I tell all of my people if you are writing a tough email, sleep on it. Read it in the morning.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Yup. Wrote one last night. Revised it this morning and sent it.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Update: I thought that it was maybe a delicate situation, but by noon a good solution was in place!What I sent this morning was better than what I had last night — sleeping on it worked!

    2. pointsnfigures

      It also lets your emotions and subconscious work. It lets initial flight or fight emotions settle.

    3. fredwilson

      great advice

    4. LE

      if you are writing a tough emailExactly. And going along with what @sigmaalgebra:disqus says below I have found it’s best to write when hot, but review and send after a day or two. The emotion makes it easy to brain dump the important points the sleep on it allows you to unemotionally refine.

      1. jason wright

        and write it and send it…to myself.

      2. PhilipSugar

        Very, very true.

    5. John Revay

      “Call me in the Morning”

    6. Bernard Russel

      Well said. Any inputs on how you make a tough decision look easy ?

      1. PhilipSugar

        Be honest and firm about it

    7. Donna Brewington White

      Great advice. I’ve also learned not to insert the recipient’s address until ready to send.

      1. PhilipSugar

        Yes this is very important. Too easy to send.

        1. Vasudev Ram

          Gmail has cancel send for that mistake, but it only has a short window in which you can cancel.

          1. PhilipSugar

            Ha. Yes I know that one I should have wrote too tempting to send

  5. Tom Labus

    and get some exercise too. I always make my best decisions walking, no phone. Things kind of sort out.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Can I go short yet?

      1. Tom Labus

        All in long for now. Earnings to be good. Where else ya going to go? You love being short but It’s very hard for me.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Markets usually break faster than they rally. Futures, really easy to be short and reverse. For the type of hit and run trading that I do these days, it’s a good strategy. The last time I was able to really hold a short for a long time was August of 2008.With the lion’s share of my portfolio, I am long S&P.

          1. Tom Labus

            August 08. I knew if I was right for crude and S&P, market and economy was toast. Not a good feeling

          2. pointsnfigures

            Yup, too much central bank innovation for that to happen anywhere right now. The better strategy is to buy breaks, until it isn’t! I wasn’t trading Brexit, but hindsight being 20/20, you’d have sold vol and bought the SPY.

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      I often go cycling when I hit a roadblock. I come back feeling great and have lots of new ideas and solutions to problems.This is what is wrong with corporate america. If an employee decides to get out of the cube and do something like that it’s considered treason.

  6. awaldstein

    We share this along with love of technology driving cultural transformation and Poulsard from the Jura.At my 8am meeting a decision I slept on (a tough one) will be made.

  7. sigmaalgebra

    Yup.Also, such a delay can be good for important letters and e-mail.Try to avoid having to make crisis decisions, but, if do have to make one, then try not to make the crisis worse which might lead to more and more difficult crisis decisions.For wars, one side can lose more than the other, but it’s tough to get a net gain from a war. Try to avoid wars.Also, if can delay in some sense, kick the can down the road, then that might be helpful and also provide time to think more clearly about the decision.Eventually this subject might get into applied decision theory, game theory, stochastic optimal control theory, negotiation techniques, etc.

  8. Irving Fain

    I like to sleep on big decisions (when possible) or at least take some time before making that final decision as well. Gives me both comfort and confidence in the choice when I ultimately make it. That said, read this a while back and thought people may enjoy it as well. It suggests that “Sleeping on it” actually doesn’t help many people…

  9. Paul Robert Cary

    There’s a lot of evidence that the brain repairs damage, re-routes neural pathways and integrates short-term information with longer-term category matches when we sleep, as well as allowing the subconscious to express itself and chemical levels to stabilise. On multiple levels, sleep is a fundamental. Sleep after a long walk with no smartphone is even better.

    1. Twain Twain

      Thanks for this neuroscience!

    2. Lawrence Brass

      Do you believe in “deep work”?http://knowledge.wharton.up…A more empirical view of it by Jonathan Blow…

    3. Ronnie Rendel

      Sleep with no phone! Wow, thanks Paul. I’m adopting this, bli neder.

    4. SubstrateUndertow

      “integrates short-term information with longer-term category matches”The magic of subconscious processing – aren’t we blessed !

  10. cavepainting

    Especially so in decisions that have some emotion or ego involved. In these cases, the instinctive reaction is usually the wrong one, for you end up optimizing for the wrong things. With some passage of time, the heat of the moment cools down, the intellect is no longer suppressed, and you begin to see the wider implications of the decision.

  11. Dan Moore

    One of the life lessons I learned when travelling in my twenties was “make no decision before you have to”, which I’d describe now as “know the value of optionality”. Of course, then you have to make a meta decision about when to make the decision. But the concept of avoiding premature choice has served me well.

    1. sjmeldrum

      I’ve always liked keeping my options open… And when necessary, “Change of plans…” Be prepared for potential blowback though, because it can drive some of the less flexible among us mad. Or, as I like to think of it, keeping them on their toes.In addition to sleeping on decisions, making them early in the day when your mind is still fresh also works well for me.

      1. Dan Moore

        Yes, when I got married, the meta decision about when to decide became more constrained.

        1. pointsnfigures

          When I got married, I told my wife all the major decisions would be mine and mine alone. In almost 30 years of marriage I am happy to report we haven’t ever had one major decision

          1. sjmeldrum

            Initially, I thought the same way. Today, I’m happy to let her make them. Happy wife == happy life!

        2. sjmeldrum

          Right! I can relate.

      2. Susan Rubinsky

        Hahahhahaahaa. That would be my ex-husband. LOL.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      make no decision before you have to”, which I’d describe now as “know the value of optionalityIf can delay for free, then, maybe, sure. Even if a delay has a cost, it might still be best to delay.There’s some cute math for this called optimal stopping times.The basic idea was due to A. Wald in the late 1940s. He got some nice, new, and better results in statistical hypothesis testing out of it.There is alsoY. S. Chow, Herbert Robbins, and David Siegmund, Great Expectations: The Theory of Optimal Stopping, ISBN 0-395-05314-5, Houghton Mifflin Company.andAlbert N. Shiryaev, Optimal Stopping Rules, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.Once I thought that I had a military application of Chow, Robbins, and Siegmund.The mathematical definition of a stopping time is cute.Supposedly there can be some closed end funds where in the meanwhile it looks like a case of Brownian motion but that converges to a known value at the end.In the meanwhile, the value of the fund can fluctuate. So, if now it is moderately high, what to do? Sell and take the gains or wait, hope for more gains, but risk losing what already have?Once I wrote out the math and the software and ran it. It was Optimal Stopping on Markov Random Bridges. It may be just a special case of Markov processes and potential theory.

    3. Susan Rubinsky

      “Know the value of optionality.” Love that!

  12. William Mougayar

    Also applies to big purchase decisions. I don’t generally like impulse buying, although I used to.

    1. Matt Zagaja

      Co-sign, although have to say that sometimes for books, software, and media Amazon and iTunes make it easy. At $0.99 and $4.99 price points a lot of these things barely make a dent in the wallet (especially since you can barely get out of Starbucks without dropping a fiver).

    2. Twain Twain

      Buyer’s remorse = impulse buy that’s not worth it AND / OR waiting too long and it’s sold-out or price increases.

    3. LE

      Impulse buying. That is exactly why, as only one example, the car dealer will give you all sorts of reasons why the “deal is only good today”. Also the reason (at least used to be back when sales were rare) for sales. (Another reason is it tends to get people off the fence). I could write a book on all of this. If you are trying to sell something impulse buying and fear of missing out (scarcity) is your friend. You’d be totally surprised at how people fall for this. I’ve gotten (non-refundable) money from people to hold something open for sale when they’ve told me they need to get some type of approval for a certain purchase. (And the amount of money isn’t trivial, mid 5 figures..) That’s how emotional and hot people get.

  13. WA

    Hope it works out in the next day- for the mindfully rested…

  14. Noah Rosenblatt

    excellent discussion and very sound advice. For me, the extra time gives a chance to play through all the scenarios that big decisions generally come with. Any unintended consequences that we are not considering, does this affect other important assets in my projects, will my competitors pivot or attack areas that otherwise would have been left alone, etc. The decision may change depending on those answers. Good stuff.

  15. Shanif Dhanani

    Agree 100%. Any time I’ve had to make a tough decision, waiting til the next day to do it always helped clear up a lot of issues that I had.

  16. JaredMermey

    sometimes the test is if you can actually fall asleep with a decision on your mind

  17. David Fleck

    When I go through my draft folder it’s littered with examples of me sleeping on it without perhaps consciously thinking of it that way. Sometimes writing something down achieves the goals without ever hitting send. During the day if a decision doesn’t have time to “sleep on it” I find I can “walk on it”, “bike on it” or do something to give me some space to make better decisions.

  18. Mike Zamansky

    The subconscious is amazing. I always tell the kids – even if they’re going to leave a big assignment for the last minute, read it over right away.How many times has a problem seemed daunting at first read but after tabling it for a day or two it’s so much more approachable.Also, that over night is so important to those of us subject to “shiny object syndrome.”

    1. LE

      I don’t tend to leave work until the last minute (and didn’t in college) however I have found that work left to the last minute is much easier to complete. The fear factor, pressure and deadline creates all sorts of energy (creative and motivation) that just makes things easier to do. I am sure someone has traced this back to our ancestors and survival in some anthro or psych journal article.

    2. fredwilson

      My dad taught me start a homework assignment the day it was assigned no matter when it was due. Priceless advice that In use everyday in some way

    3. Susan Rubinsky

      Yes! Start the project, but when you hit a roadblock and struggle a bit on it, walk away.

  19. Chimpwithcans

    I have just been tinkering with my smartwatch (Polar M400) and I see it is tracking my sleep. I don’t really know what or how it is tracking anything at that time of day from my wrist, with that little movement and no HR monitor attached to my chest, but i digress… says my deep sleep is 4 hours, and interrupted sleep is 3 hours. Not really sure what to do with that. If there was some tech to measure decision making benefits of last night’s sleep versus the night before, that would be useful!

  20. Michael

    Sound advice given that it’s Amazon Prime Day. Imagine not sleeping on it and the next day finding this at your doorstep (

  21. Richard

    Making decisions is hardest decision to make. I wish I were joking.

  22. LE

    So “sleeping on it” literally means sleeping on it as well as buying a short amount of time to sit with the decision and make sure it feels right.I always use the time (and the delta time from past behavior importantly) that someone stalls in terms of my own strategy when deal making. While obviously not 100% accurate, I have found it helpful in terms of negotiating. That is taking into account the amount of time it takes for someone to get back to me. This entirely depends on the situation and their past behavior (if any) as well as whether there are others that are involved in the decision (who they have to consult with). So no rule covers all situations but it is can be a significant data point I have found, no question about that. I have been doing this forever.

  23. Logan

    This is fussy – unconscious is preferred to subconscious as subconscious is Freudian terminology.

  24. JLM

    .What you are talking about is how we each individually “process” information. In a Myers-Briggs context, it is classic I v E behavior.You are processing the info in accordance with your own preference. No surprise there.We make decisions by framing a question, gathering information, evaluating the information, embracing/rejecting the information, and, only then, do we decide to decide.The decision to make a decision is what happens after one sleeps. Sometimes, the distance from initial contact with the question changes what we think is important.Every decision starts being neither important nor urgent.Then, it becomes either important or urgent.Then, it may becomes both important and urgent.The quality of a well-managed organization may lie in how many decisions are made before they become both important and urgent.There is a hidden jewel in making decisions in that making them when they are neither urgent nor important allows you to change the decision.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Vasudev Ram

      I remember that urgent vs not urgent and important vs not important matrix from a corp training I was in. It was on task / time management, where this is a technique used. Good one, IMO.Speaking of which, I’ve always thought that with the plethora of task management (aka todo list aka whatever) approaches out there, how does one choose. Right now I use my own homegrown method, but it might be interesting to have a discussion on this.

      1. JLM

        .First read, The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Guwunde (sp?)JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. Vasudev Ram

          Thanks for the reminder/suggestion. If you remember we had an email exchange about it. Never found out about the two seemingly different versions, though I tried. Also did not know that it covers time/task management, thought it only covers checklists (though they are of course a part of the former). Will get the book.If by (sp?) you mean spelling, I think it is Gawande.Have you studied or trained on the stuff you wrote about in your original comment (3 comments above)? Sounds impressive, is why I ask.Also, I liked these two statements:”The quality of a well-managed organization may lie in how many decisions are made before they become both important and urgent.””There is a hidden jewel in making decisions in that making them when they are neither urgent nor important allows you to change the decision.”

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      Interesting viewpoint to think about.

  25. Ronnie Rendel

    I would love to know what kind of “wartime stuff” a succesful, well regarded VC has to deal with. I know what stuff comes up by me, but that’s not as interesting.

  26. leapy

    My fourteen year old son has just completed a biology assignment about recent research showing that spinal fluid literally washes through the brain pathways during sleep. It washes the proteins away ensuring smooth functioning when awake.Fascinating stuff that I assume partially explains the benefits you describe in your post. He’s away so cannot offer more information.

  27. Paul Sanwald

    The same applies for technical problems. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve struggled for hours with something through the evening, and then on my morning run the next morning everything is so much clearer. I think sleeping on any major design/technical decisions is also great when you can afford to do it.

  28. Vasudev Ram

    Sleeping on it (or not taking action for 24 hours, or other variations), and only then replying to someone (whether by voice or email, particularly when you are upset about it), etc., is fairly old and well known advice – you see it in a lot of self-help books and books by so-called gurus of that genre – Dale Carnegie, etc.But of course nowadays people think they know everything (thanks to TV and Internet) and don’t read books … :)See Rich Hickey’s video on Hammock-Driven Development:

  29. ShanaC

    I would also say, meditate on it. Similar idea, let the mind rest. Albeit in a much more focused way of resting

    1. Sita Devi

      Wrong. Meditation won’t help.

  30. LE

    Meatload, Paradise by the Dashboard Light:…(He sounds terrible but the rest of the show is great..)

  31. John

    You mentioned this in a post a few years ago as well. It was the first I’d heard mention of the subconscious brain working on the problem while you did something else. It’s a brilliant idea which I’ve used many times since you shared it with great success. Thank you for sharing it again so more can benefit.

  32. naveen

    La nuit porte conseil. – “The night brings counsel.”/”Let’s sleep on it.”Next time you’re in Herald Square, go find Bennett Monument – this phrase is inscribed on it. And don’t forget to look up at the owls on the monument!