If you have ever found yourself in bed agonizing over an unsolvable problem only to wake with a picture-perfect solution: you are in good company. Sleep has informed some of humanity’s most creative exploits, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to some of Salvador Dali’s most mind-boggling paintings. In fact, Thomas Edison and Dali were known to experiment in an attempt to harness sleep’s creative superpowers. Whether struggling to solve a conundrum at work or experiencing a creative block, improving your sleep efficiency could go a long way toward ﬁnding a solution.
The Science Behind Your Sudden Good Ideas
Even for those with a natural inclination, being creative has its hurdles. Sometimes writing a sentence or coming up with a new design feels akin to pulling teeth. Imagine if you could learn to utilize your sleep patterns to break past creative blocks. A deeper understanding of the science behind the relationship to sleep and problem-solving could help you do just that.
After all, being creative might just be so easy you can do it in your sleep.
“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.” – Akira Kurosawa, Japanese Film Director
The Link Between Brain Waves and Creativity
If you have ever given a heart-pounding presentation in front of a room of your peers, you have experienced beta brain waves. These waves are present during moments of great concentration and significance.1
When the presentation is ﬁnished and you have gone back to your seat, your heartbeat slows and your anxiety begins to subside, leading into alpha brain waves.1
On the way home from work you might ﬁnd yourself daydreaming on the freeway to the point of forgetting how you got home. During these moments in auto-pilot mode, you are experiencing theta brainwaves. Your chances of solving that work problem are greatest in theta thanks to your brain’s relaxed state.1
As you fall into a deep sleep, you will reach the ﬁnal brainwave state known as delta. Here, the brainwaves have the greatest amplitude and slowest frequency.1
When your alarm goes off in the morning, your brainwave frequencies will increase from delta to theta and then to alpha and ﬁnally beta.1 During this cycle, individuals can stay in theta for an extended amount of time. This allows for the free ﬂow of ideas and can be extremely productive creatively if utilized.
Dream Recall: Does it Make You More Creative?
The more frequently you recall your dreams, the more likely you are to possess certain personality traits such as creativity and openness.2 The ﬁndings of a study conducted by Raphael Vallat were “consistent with the emerging view that dreaming and mind wandering pertain to the same family of spontaneous mental processes.” If you are interested in boosting creativity, start writing down your dreams while they are still fresh in your mind.
The Impact of Poor Sleep on Creative Pursuits
“I ﬁnd the nights long, for I sleep but little, and think much.”― Charles Dickens
Lack of sleep can slow down brain function, making it more difficult to remember things. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain takes the previous day’s experiences and converts them into long-term memories.3 When this process is interrupted, you may struggle to remember assigned tasks or have difficulty approaching creative projects.
Lack of Focus
Poor sleep can lead to grogginess during the day. This is most likely inﬂuenced by a chemical in the body known as adenosine. Adenosine acts as a central nervous system depressant, meaning it “promotes sleep and suppresses arousal.”4 However, if sleep-deprived, the levels of adenosine in the body are already high and will continue to rise throughout the day, causing you to feel drowsy sooner.4 Due to this sleepiness, you may be less alert and have a difficult time concentrating.
Since poor sleep affects focus, mistakes are more likely to happen. Findings from this study suggest that sleep-deprived people are twice as likely to make an error as those who are well-rested. Research conducted by Duke-National University of Singapore on individuals working 40 hour weeks on less than eight hours of sleep a night reported that the more tasks the sleep-deprived individuals undertook, the more mistakes were made.5
Elevated Stress Levels
Nothing extinguishes a creative spark quite like stress. Unfortunately, if not getting enough high-quality sleep, you may have a harder time dealing with stress due to increased cortisol levels.6 If you are focused on the stressful elements of your life, creating top-tier art is difficult to do.
5 Tips for Hacking Creativity
If ready to start using sleep to your creative advantage, put the following tips into practice today:
1. Monitor Your Sleep
Efficient sleep is vital to creativity. To ensure you are getting the amount you need and to rule out any sleep disorders, consider having a home sleep test done or invest in a medical-grade sleep monitor that can be worn regularly at home.
2. Put Down Your Phone
Instead of endlessly scrolling through your phone, opt for a book before bed instead. Not only will the absence of blue light help you sleep better, but reading before bed will also prime your mind for creative thinking.
3. Stay on Task
Right before bed, think about the problem or creative task that needs solving. The key is to brieﬂy think about the issue prior to sleep, but not dwell on it.
4. Write Down Ideas
It is best practice to keep a notebook by your bed in case any great ideas pop into your head in the morning. Even if the idea is not fully formed, write it down anyway. You never know what could be valuable later.
5. Implement a Sleep Routine
Aside from the undeniable health benefits of a good night’s sleep, having a regular sleep schedule will improve memory, enhance focus and make being creative easier.
Your ability to sleep well drastically impacts your creativity and problem-solving ability, so it is important to prioritize your rest. Somnology offers a comprehensive perspective to sleep monitoring and care, with the SLaaS® (Sleep Lab as a Service) platform, SomnoRing®, and our mobile app. We have streamlined a typical sleep diagnosis experience by delivering the technology and medical insight of a sleep lab directly to users. To learn more about SLaaS® and the effects of sleep, continue reading our blog or subscribe to our newsletter.