5 December 2013 from BBC.com/Future
How sleep makes your mind more creative
It’s a tried and tested technique used by writers and poets, but can psychology explain why first moments after waking can be among our most imaginative?
It is 6.06am and I’m typing this in my pyjamas. I awoke at 6.04am, walked from the bedroom to the study, switched on my computer and got to work immediately. This is unusual behaviour for me. However, it’s a tried and tested technique for enhancing creativity, long used by writers, poets and others, including the inventor Benjamin Franklin. And psychology research appears to back this up, providing an explanation for why we might be at our most creative when our minds are still emerging from the realm of sleep.
The best evidence we have of our mental state when we’re asleep is that strange phenomenon called dreaming. Much remains unknown about dreams, but one thing that is certain is that they are weird. Also listening to other people’s dreams can be deadly boring. They go on and on about how they were on a train, but it wasn’t a train, it was a dinner party, and their brother was there, as well as a girl they haven’t spoken to since they were nine, and… yawn. To the dreamer this all seems very important and somehow connected. To the rest of us it sounds like nonsense, and tedious nonsense at that.
Yet these bizarre monologues do highlight an interesting aspect of the dream world: the creation of connections between things that didn’t seem connected before. When you think about it, this isn’t too unlike a description of what creative people do in their work – connecting ideas and concepts that nobody thought to connect before in a way that appears to make sense.
No wonder some people value the immediate, post-sleep, dreamlike mental state – known as sleep inertia or the hypnopompic state – so highly. It allows them to infuse their waking, directed thoughts with a dusting of dreamworld magic. Later in the day, waking consciousness assumes complete control, which is a good thing as it allows us to go about our day evaluating situations, making plans, pursuing goals and dealing rationally with the world. Life would be challenging indeed if we were constantly hallucinating, believing the impossible or losing sense of what we were doing like we do when we’re dreaming. But perhaps the rational grip of daytime consciousness can at times be too strong, especially if your work could benefit from the feckless, distractible, inconsistent, manic, but sometimes inspired nature of its rebellious sleepy twin.
Scientific methods – by necessity methodical and precise – might not seem the best of tools for investigating sleep consciousness. Yet in 2007 Matthew Walker, now of the University of California at Berkeley, and colleagues carried out a study that helps illustrate the power of sleep to foster unusual connections, or “remote associates” as psychologists call them.
Under the inference
Subjects were presented with pairs of six abstract patterns A, B, C, D, E and F. Through trial and error they were taught the basics of a hierarchy, which dictated they should select A over B, B over C, C over D, D over E, and E over F. The researchers called these the “premise pairs”. While participants learnt these during their training period, they were not explicitly taught that because A was better than B, and B better than C, that they should infer A to be better than C, for example. This hidden order implied relationships, described by Walker as “inference pairs”, were designed to mimic the remote associates that drive creativity.
Participants who were tested 20 minutes after training got 90% of premise pairs but only around 50% of inference pairs right – the same fraction you or I would get if we went into the task without any training and just guessed.
Those tested 12 hours after training again got 90% for the premise pairs, but 75% of inference pairs, showing the extra time had allowed the nature of the connections and hidden order to become clearer in their minds.
But the real success of the experiment was a contrast in the performances of one group trained in the morning and then re-tested 12 hours later in the evening, and another group trained in the evening and brought back for testing the following morning after having slept. Both did equally well in tests of the premise pairs. The researchers defined inferences that required understanding of two premise relationships as easy, and those that required three or more as hard. So, for example, A being better than C, was labelled as easy because it required participants to remember that A was better than B and B was better than C. However understanding that A was better than D meant recalling A was better than B, B better than C, and C better than D, and so was defined as hard.
When it came to the harder inferences, people who had a night’s sleep between training and testing got a startling 93% correct, whereas those who’d been busy all day only got 70%.
The experiment illustrates that combining what we know to generate new insights requires time, something that many might have guessed. Perhaps more revealingly it also shows the power of sleep in building remote associations. Making the links between pieces of information that our daytime rational minds see as separate seems to be easiest when we’re offline, drifting through the dreamworld.
It is this function of sleep that might also explain why those first moments upon waking can be among our most creative. Dreams may seem weird, but just because they don’t make sense to your rational waking consciousness doesn’t make them purposeless. I was at my keyboard two minutes after waking up in an effort to harness some dreamworld creativity and help me write this column – memories of dreams involving trying to rob a bank with my old chemistry teacher, and playing tennis with a racket made of spaghetti, still tinging the edges of my consciousness.
Einstein' s Hair by Rafael Robles
What if Everyone woke up one morning with Einstein’s Hair?
And a Brilliant Idea.
What a great day that would be. Maybe we could save the world! Small ideas, grand ideas – they would all work in their own unique ways, inspire smiles and create a vision for a new and better world. Just think of the buzz in the local cafes and bars.
This is actually not so far-fetched. Having a brilliant idea is not as hard as it sounds. Let me tell you why, tell you my brilliant idea story, and show you how you can do it, too:
First, a brief on the Serious Science of it:
Our brains are more powerful and more responsive than we understand (Neuroscientists know a lot less than they will usually admit). Luckily, with just our intention and focus, we can tap into this power. There is evidence in Neuroscience and Physics that backs this up. My “Serious Science” blog post has a bit more information and more links.
Now for My Story:
Years ago, I had been told from a number of reliable sources that I should consider writing as a way to “really make it” in this world. I started by dabbling in screenwriting, resulting in one very long and epic script. I found out what an amazing rush creative writing could be. That was and continues to be great fun, but selling a screenplay is about as likely as winning the lottery. So I needed a new idea. I need to write something that was marketable, easy and fun for me to write, would be accessible and useful to a broad audience; old and young, rich and poor. I wanted it to be a fun experience and a launch pad for other fun experiences and products – maybe even a film!
The first Brilliant Idea:
A few days later, I was taking a walk in a beautiful park pondering this. Suddenly, I heard that wise voice in my head say, “Write about how you program your sleep.” Brilliant! That was perfect. It was something I knew well, having done it for years already. I had worked out a system and had lots of experience and stories to tell. All I needed to do was write it up, throw in some fun personal stories and things to do in between the how-to bits and get it out there.
Then I began the process. And each step of the way, I had that wonderful wise voice guiding me. In fact, the presence of that voice was the result of all my nights of sleep programming. I had opened a door to inner and outer wisdom every night and had developed a level of trust and ease with that connection that I no longer needed to ask at night. I could ask any time and get answers after, not weeks or even days, but almost immediately.
The next Brilliant Idea:
When I had gotten far enough into the writing process, I realized I needed some kind of metaphor, some kind of visual image to tie all the material together harmoniously. So I took a walk, sat under a tree by a river and opened my mind. A few minutes later, a vision came to me. A pirate ship, like the one in Pirates of Penzance – fun, full of colorful images, costumes, dance, song and happy endings.
Brilliant again! I saw all the pieces of the book falling into place. How fun would that be. My mind was racing and I was happy to get back to work on my book.
I went to town with the pirate ship idea, obviously. I just couldn’t help myself. Some people think my site should be more serious – play up my doctor credentials and credibility. But to me, that would be boring. Despite that fancy diploma, series of licenses, white doctor’s coat and huge student loan, it’s just not who I am, and writing is all about being authentic.
So, like sailing off into an ocean of adventure, I chart this course to be under the pure blue skies of authenticity. A brilliant idea can’t be truly brilliant any other way.
How you can have your own Brilliant Ideas:
I love the idea of a brilliant idea being easy, fun, deep and mind expanding all at once. I think the best ideas are that way. And then I thought about asking for brilliant ideas. Everyone could ask for one, just as I did. Everyone – no matter their circumstances, could have their own brilliant idea and we could, together, save the world, each in our own way! All they have to do is ask, and then sleep on it. How exciting!
So get on your Magic Nights ship tonight and put on your Captain’s Uniform of inner wisdom, brilliance and authenticity. Invite your crew of wise ones from the universe of your dreamtime and ask for a brilliant idea! Do this every night for a week and let me know how it goes. Buy my book Magic Nights to learn just the right magic words and have a good understanding of how it works, and discover lots of other possibilities for nighttime adventure, too.
What if we all woke up with Einstein’s hair! – how fun would that be….
Have a Magic Night!
Til the End of Time by Akshay Moon
‘Green’ Sleep is Good Sleep.
They call it ‘sleep hygiene’ in the medical community: those simple things you can do to get better sleep.
And most of them, not coincidentally, are also ‘green’ things to do.
Clean your world, your body and your mind. Then enlist the powerful, free and renewable resources of your brain and the universe with the Magic Nights technique to help you get just the kind of sleep you want.
‘Green’ your Home and Your Sleep Environment:
- Sleep in a room which has good circulation and air free from toxins. Buy a HEPA air purifier to have on hand to clean the air before bedtime, especially if you have pets.
- Minimize toxic fumes from artificial scents. If you like scents, use pure organic scent oils such as lavender oil
- Many cleaning solutions can also emit toxic fumes. Clean your bedroom, your bedding and night-wear with non-toxic, unscented, biodegradable products.
- Formaldehyde and other toxic gases can be emitted from newer rubber (including memory foam), new plastics and glues (pressboard furniture and synthetic carpets).
- For lots of ideas to help make your bedroom, home and life more ‘green’ and healthy, go to my friends Lia and Jason’s Green Living and Building Center site and store in Lambertville, NJ. Also Norman’s Green with Envy Home Store in Hillsborough, NJ has lots of good products and another place to visit might be Your Organic Bedroom in Doylestown, PA
Electronic Pollution from appliances, radio waves and EMF:
- Turn off and unplug as many electronic appliances as you can while you are sleeping.
- Turn off radio frequency emitting devices if possible, or keep them as far away as possible from your sleeping room – this includes WiFi antennas.
- Keep anything you must have switched on, such as an alarm clock or cell phone, at least four feet from your body when you are sleeping.
- Don’t sleep with the television on! If you must have sound, use a nondescript sound generator designed for sleep.
- Don’t watch disturbing or violent news or television in the hours before bedtime. Instead watch something uplifting like romance or humorous shows or listen to soothing music.
‘Green’ your Body and Your Mind:
Food and Drink Pollution:
- Don’t have alcohol, coffee, tea or other stimulants in the evening.
- Drink pure water or decaffeinated digestive or calming teas instead.
- Eat whole, organic, raw foods if possible. They are easier to digest.
- Gentle and balancing forms of exercise are good before bed, such as Chi Gung or Yoga for relaxation orAcu-Yoga. They will help your sleep have a deeper healing effect.
- Taking a bath or shower before bed will not only help you feel fresh and relaxed, but clean the body’s energetic system as well. Let all the stress from the day go right down the drain.
- Use the techniques in my blog post “My Cure for Insomnia” for more healthy body balancing before bed.
‘Green’ your life using the Magic Nights Technique:
Use the powerful, free and renewable resources of your brain, your immune system and the universe in helping you get good sleep by simply asking for it using the ‘magic words’ that work. Buy Magic Nights to learn how to use this tool for good sleep and more.
Have a Magic Night!
Dr. Katie Hawn
Pirate’s Cafe by Greenasian
Kate tucked the sheet of paper inside her notebook and, wrapping the leather cord around its cover. She lifted her eyes, surveying the scene in the bar.
The newcomers uneasily settled into their seats, their eyes darting to the windows and the weather outside. Bob’s Barmaid made the rounds, but few were interested in her menu.
A large official man, Bernard, stalked into the tavern, taking an authoritative stance. The guests moved their eyes to him and waited. Bernard was never short on words, or orders to hand out, given the opportunity.
Kate moved quietly toward the back of the bar and sidled up next to Bob. Both of them turned a blank gaze toward Bernard. He took a breath and began to bark: “Everyone, follow me. It looks like a bad one. ” There were a few low groans from the crowd. He got louder, “You know the drill. Everyone goes to the city shelter room until this blows over.” Then his voice softened slightly, but didn’t gain one ounce of sincerity, “We will keep you informed of developments at all times. Now please move along.”
Kate and Bob leaned back against the bar as the rest filed out. Then Bob followed behind the crowd to the door. “Come back soon.” He called out easily and loudly, as if it were any other closing time.
From the street, Bernard, still shouting orders, threw a backward glance at Bob, glaring at him with cultivated resentment. Bob casually swung the heavy door shut and threw its latch, then turned a bolt. The deep heavy clunk of steel signaled that the inner mechanisms of the well-fortified door were engaged. Another gust of wind hit the door in protest, but it was unmoved.
Bob and Kate stood near the window. “So, Kate, how is the weather?” Bob inquired, Kate put her hands in the air, as if feeling it’s currents through the thick panes of glass. Bob looked at her face intently. Kate laughed, “It’s a blustery day.” But then she closed her eyes and extended her arms and hands more, purposefully. They swept back and forth, up and down, carving the air as if to entrance it. But Bob was the one taken into a trance. Soon her motions came to balance and stillness, paused then drifted down to her sides.
Suddenly she grabbed Bob and swung him around playfully. Just as suddenly, she sat down again and took a deep breath. “That feels a little better.” she sighed. Bob, unsettled, backed away just a little. “They’ll be back soon.” was his excuse as he moved back from Kate to take care of the bar.
Outside, the wind calmed for a moment, then picked up again. Kate moved away from the window and perched herself on a bar stool near where Bob was busying himself. She unwrapped her notebook and pulled out the page marked Bob’s #1 and her pen. She looked up at Bob for a moment, thinking, then began to write:
“What if you had a brilliant idea. Would it be big or small? Who would it help? How would it feel? What would it do?”
She folded the paper up, keeping it under her fingers and she reached deep into her vest with her other hand and touched her gold ball, then brought out her hand to reveal the traces of gold it had left there. “Bob-” Bob stopped wiping the bar. “Remember the gold ball?” “Yeah.” Bob replied. Kate planted her gold dusted fingertips on the sheet of paper and pushed it forward. “Come to my ship tonight, say – eight. I’ll tell you about it.” Bob stood there for a moment, glancing down at it, feigning disinterest. Then Kate pulled the paper back and waited until she had Bob’s attention.
Bob’s expression gave just a hint of interest. Kate knew Bob well enough to know that he, like many, wanted that quick fix, that easy instant answer. And the process of getting that gold ball was anything but quick and easy. It was the result of years of work and experimentation. But she also knew that Bob had a good heart, and sometimes an open mind. After all, he did put up with Kate’s tendency to wax metaphysical on him, and still seemed to like her company. So, taking that chance, Kate took her hand off the piece of paper on the counter and went toward the window.
The weather outside was still blustery, but less strange. People were already coming out of the town hall, talking among themselves, relieved to get on with their lives. Bernard stood on the steps importantly, scowling at the sky and fending off the annoyed questions from a few townspeople.
Back in the bar, Bob read the paper Kate had left. Kate glanced back at him casually. “ Tonight then?” Bob left the paper to rest on the bar, working around it as if afraid acknowledge its existence. “Yeah.” He replied.
Kate was also eager to get on with her day. She pulled out her crystal ball communicator and glanced at its colorful display. “Shit. I’m going to be late. Got to go!”. She dropped her ball as she grabbed her coat and pulled it on. The ball rolled away, then stopped and rolled back to her feet. She waited for it to stop, then swooped it up, tucking it into a silver-lined pouch at her waist.
Bob sneered. “They’ll find you anywhere.” Kate retorted, “If I let them.” She stood in the doorway, holding tight to the brim of her hat, and let her hair blow in the wind a moment, then Kate stepped out into the world. Bob watched her leave, with one hand slyly reaching out to the paper, keeping it from blowing away with the wind that blew in the door. He slid it off the bar and into his apron. Then he went to the door to secure it and stepped to the window to watch as Kate disappeared into the morning mist.