It’s not just that a rested person is more productive, as Dr William Dement, director of the Stanford University Sleep Research Centre notes. He reinforces the need for sleep as an important precursor to creativity. He points to the preparation necessary before creative insights are achieved as creativity is dependent on learning and memory and these capacities are strongly affected by sleep patterns and the lack of sleep.
So I wondered if sleep can assist with enhancing creativity, what about naps?
The research soon took me to a prolific innovator, Thomas Edison, who while was opposed to sleep as it was a ‘waste of time’ and never slept more than 4 hours a night, was known to take a ‘power nap’. But he had an interesting approach to his napping, as he would take a nap in a chair holding items like a marble or steel ball, that would fall to the ground and wake him before he went into a deeper sleep. It’s thought that he used this technique to assist him with creative responses to problem solving.
Edison may have been onto something as this claim is now being tested further.
Research is showing that creativity can increase after a light sleep to assist with stubborn problems that have been sitting in our consciousness. The researchers are particularly interested in the period just as we begin to drift into sleep, a sleep phase called N1, or nonrapid-eye-movement sleep stage 1.
Researcher, Delphine Oudiette of the Paris Brain Institute, believes the findings suggest that we have a creative window just before falling asleep. She points to plenty of historical examples of this phenomenon.
“Alexander the Great and Albert Einstein potentially used Edison’s technique, or so the legend goes, and some of the dreams that have inspired great discoveries could be hypnagogic experiences rather than night dreams”.
Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí also used a variation of Edison’s method: he held a key over a metal plate as he went to sleep, which clanged to wake him as he dropped it, supposedly inspiring his artistic imagery.
Hypnagogia is the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep, also defined as the waning state of consciousness during the onset of sleep.
Further research points to what occurs when you're prompted to dream about a topic during sleep onset. The
guided napping, known as 'targeted dream incubation' is thought to enable divergent thinking and can boost creativity.
As a big fan of napping, I'm keen to test how I might use this to enhance my our own creative state and problem solving.