Sleeping for Creative Inspiration

September 18, 2015

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There is still much speculation on the effects of dreaming on generating creative ideas. Common advice for dealing with a tough decision is to “sleep on it” for inspiration to strike. Is this just folklore, or does sleep actually affect our creativity?
     
Scientists have done testing of brain activity and learning to draw a connection. The improvement of memory associated with adequate sleep may be conducive to creative insights when we wake up. According to their studies, creatives in the visual arts reported a more disrupted sleep from their dreams and poorer functioning during the day. Verbal creatives reported a longer duration of sleep, with going to bed and waking up at later times. 
     
Some creative types romanticize the restlessness and lack of sleep associated with making their art. There has remained no proven correlation between insomnia and creativity. Sleep deprivation degrades mental agility, so it surely has a negative effect on creativity. 
     
However, researchers have found that those waking up from REM sleep are better at solving complex problems than those waking from non-REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the stage during which your brain activity most closely resembles your waking state, and your eyes move rapidly from side to side while closed. This is when intense dreams happen. 
     
It seems interrupting this stage of sleep causes the brain to use its residual capacity for activity that can be translated to something productive. While it remains a mystery, plenty have artists have claimed dreams to be responsible for their work. 
     
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote the poem “Kubla Khan” after waking up from an opium-induced dream. Salvador Dali was inspired by dreams in creating his surrealist paintings. Paul McCartney claims a dream inspired the melody for his song “Yesterday.”  



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