Discussing creativity in class, I casually mentioned that I seem to do my best thinking when I’m asleep.
Specifically, I reported that I like to get to work as soon as I jump out of bed (literally) … and that I often find myself doing a brain dump of thoughts that weren’t top of mind before I’d gone nite-nite.
The revelation initially got some chuckles … then some folks started nodding and chiming in with “me, too” variants on the story.
Of course, some remained unconvinced.
For the skeptics, here some science …
Psychology research provides an explanation for why some people might be at their most creative when their minds are still emerging from the realm of sleep.
Some work at the NIH found that while you’re asleep, your brain is busy forming new memories, consolidating older ones, and linking more recent with earlier memories, during both REM and non-REM sleep.
More specifically, a BBC article “How Sleep Makes You More Creative” summarizes a 2007 University of California study that found sleep can foster “remote associates,” or unusual connections, in the brain — which could lead to a major “a-ha” moment upon waking.
The key finding: “Making the links between pieces of information that our daytime rational minds see as separate seems to be easiest when we’re offline, drifting through the dreamworld.”
Researchers observed that people are 33 percent more likely to make connections between seemingly distantly related ideas upon waking from sleep.
The immediate, post-sleep, dreamlike mental state is known technically as sleep inertia or the hypnopompic state.
“It allows people to infuse their waking, directed thoughts with a dusting of dreamworld magic”.
Bottom line: Our bodies may be resting while we sleep, but our brains remain active.
The trick is to tap our fresh thoughts before they get lost in the daily hustle & bustle.
Some very unscientific observations:
I find it useful to think about a thorny problem just before hopping into bed.
A problem that’s too complex or too emotional can cause sleeplessness.
You have to hit the sweet spot: plant the seed without working yourself into a frenzy.