• The Sound Sleeper

Sleep may inspire you to come up with the next “big idea”

While we typically think of writers and artists as the creative ones, all of us showcase our creativity every day, both at work and in our personal lives.

Creativity and sleep

Creativity takes many forms and can be characterized as formulating original ideas and solving problems in new ways. Studies have shown repeatedly – and shall we say, creatively – that getting good sleep actually helps strengthen those skills.

A “good night’s sleep” means we have completed the required sleep cycles multiple times without interruption. 

Two sleep cycles are especially relevant to the creative process: NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). NREM is the cycle important to learning and retaining information, providing the foundation necessary for creating unusual connections between memories and thoughts that occurs during REM (rapid eye movement), which is also when we dream. We rely on these unconscious associations to foster our creativity.

In one study testing problem-solving abilities, subjects were awakened during different stages of the sleep cycle to solve anagram word puzzles. Subjects were able to solve more puzzles correctly during the REM sleep cycle compared to non-REM, demonstrating what scientists call the “flexible cognitive processing” that we experience during that cycle.

Creativity is a human quality and not something computers have been able to improve upon. 

While computers may be able to store more data than our brains, these inanimate objects can’t connect that information in the novel, creative ways that we are capable of. Good news for us!

There are well-known anecdotes that demonstrate bursts of creativity following dreams. On the science side, Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev was struggling with how to organize the periodic table of elements when the answer came to him in a dream. His solution became the basis of chemical science.


Then there are artist and writer stories: Paul McCartney writing Beatles’ tunes “Yesterday” and “Yellow Submarine” and Mary Shelley writing “Frankenstein” after being inspired by dreams. So put your sleep and your dreams to work for you. Before you go to bed, think about what problem you’d like to solve, writing assignment you’d like to tackle or challenge you’d like to undertake. Then see what your full night’s sleep brings you the next day.
Sources: Sleep Foundation; Deloitte Insights (2019) You snooze, you win, Why organizations should prioritize having a well-rested workforce; Perogamvros, L et al. (2013) Sleep and dreaming are for important matters, Frontiers in Psychology; Walker, M (2017) Why We Sleep; Walker, M et al. (2002) Cognitive flexibility across the sleep–wake cycle: REM-sleep enhancement of anagram problem solving, Cognitive Brain Research.

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