We live in an age of multitasking, but there is still one significant chunk of time we haven’t put to good use — sleep. A restful, uninterrupted eight hours of shuteye is important for replenishing our energy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t do double duty and replenish our creativity too.
At some critical point in your life, someone has probably told you to “sleep on it.” Though that may have sent you into a quiet fury, the truth is they were right. As researchers delve further into the study of sleep, they are discovering that when our bodies check out, our brains go to work solving problems, discovering hidden shortcuts and increasing our creative output. Our miraculous brains do this even without our conscious input, but for an extra dose of insight, try the following exercises.
There are two ways we go about finding answers. The first — explicit thinking — is when we use obvious, previously tested methods, traveling the shortest distance from problem to solution, which is predictable and often useful but also boring. The second — implicit thinking — happens almost subconsciously, like when you’re doing the dishes and the perfect first line of a poem pops into your head. This is how we come up with novel solutions and ideas by making unlikely connections.
Since most implicit thinking happens without your involvement, there’s no reason you can’t do it while you’re asleep. Before going to bed, write down or even vocalize what it is you are struggling with in your creative endeavor. By placing the problem at the forefront of your mind, you’ll set your brain to work on finding the solution.
Bedtime is also a great opportunity to lock in new information. Research has found that sleep helps us consolidate memories and cement new knowledge by strengthening neural connections. What’s more, one study has found it most beneficial to go to sleep right after absorbing something new. Now you can learn French without ever leaving your bed!
While You’re Asleep
Dreams are mostly random snippets from your life coming together in an absurd reality. It’s not unlike what creativity looks like — bits and pieces of sound and color and metaphor brought together in new ways. It’s no wonder, then, that everyone from Einstein to Robert Louis Stevenson has partially attributed their ideas to a dream.
One way to use your dreams is by practicing lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming happens when the dreamer is aware that she is asleep and can manipulate the contents of the dream. Whether it’s rollerblading through the halls of the Louvre or flying to Tahiti for a sunrise dip, your imagination is your only constraint. People have used lucid dreaming to work out their creative blocks, write speeches and summon a group of imaginary advisors to solve real problems. There are lots of ways to bring on lucid dreaming, including an app that tracks your sleep and will play a recording of your own voice saying “I am dreaming” once you’ve entered the REM stage of sleep.
When You Wake Up
Those first groggy moments can be some of your most creatively viable ones of the day. Partly this is because your brain has yet to be inundated with information, to-do lists and stressors, and so is free to do your creative bidding. Primarily though, this output of creativity is because you’re still between dreams and reality, enabling you to hold on to wacky ideas and images that had filled up the night. Keep a pen and paper on your bedside table to write down everything that comes to you in those first moments, and chances are you’ll capture what would have been a fleeting burst of brilliance.
Have you had any creative insights after a good night’s sleep? Tell us in the comments below.
(Photo via Getty)