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How Do Sleep Patterns Influence Creativity?

Updated May 17, 2024
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You've probably experienced the frustration: You fall asleep, only to be woken up almost immediately by something. But if you're the creative type, instead of getting mad, you should be grateful.

According to research, being abruptly awakened after falling into the first stage of sleep – hypnagogia, or "N1" sleep – can help you solve difficult problems and boosts your inventiveness.

While inventor Thomas Edison and surrealist artist Salvador Dalí knew about this trick (Edison held small steel balls in his hands, which would drop and wake him when he fell asleep) the odd nature of our sleepy mind now has science to back it up. A team led by Delphine Oudiette at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris set up a clever test. Volunteers were given a tough math problem, but weren't told there was a shortcut to figuring it out. After a brief period, they were encouraged to briefly nap. Of those that entered the N1 stage of sleep, a very impressive 83 percent woke up having uncovered the shortcut.

Dream on:

  • Most people dream in color, but 12 percent of sleepers always have black-and-white dreams.

  • We forget approximately half of our dreams within five minutes of waking.

  • People are more likely to remember their dreams if they are woken during the REM stage of sleep.

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