Friday, October 19, 2012

Dreaming and Creativity

My one word for 2012 is CREATE. So this year I've been paying attention to what seems to spark my creativity, and what seems to squelch it.

For instance, last month I talked about physical space and how a little "white space" in my environment can clear the way for my creativity to blossom. So when I need a creativity boost, I declutter.

Later that very week I found evidence of another creativity booster. I watched a science channel show that confirmed what I've long suspected: that sleep {specifically dreaming} can boost creativity.

Research is showing that REM sleep {the time when you are dreaming} improves people's ability to find connections among seemingly unrelated things. This is a key feature in creativity - being able to see and combine things in new, unexpected ways. In fact, REM sleep seems to make our reasoning more fluid and our thinking more original.

Not only that but lack of REM sleep impairs creativity.

In a broad sense, dreams mimic a critical stage of creativity: brainstorming the range of possibilities, or what psychoanalysts call "free association."

"To be creative, you need a way to let those circuits float free and really be open to alternatives that you would normally overlook," explains Dr. Robert Stickgold, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard. He adds, "Several features of REM sleep predispose the brain to this activity."

I don't know about you, but I want to predispose my brain to think creatively. To solve problems creatively. To see connections I otherwise might have missed.

Two things I excel at are sleeping and brainstorming ideas. Now I know why - they are linked!

I'm an avid napper. I take naps two, often three or four, days out of the week. I've even been know to take two naps in one day during particularly busy writing seasons. But the thing is, while cat naps help, you generally have to sleep over an hour to enter REM stage.

My husband once got me a nightshirt that says, "I sleep hard, and I dream harder!" I'm now thinking that's an excellent motto to live by.

Apparently dreaming hard helps me not just work harder but work smarter - more creatively. There's more I could say about the benefits of napping - and here's a link to some of the science - but all this talk of naps is making me sleepy. I might head to the recliner for a bit.

What about you, are you a nap taker? Should you be?


  1. This is a fascinating post. I have always had incredibly vivid dreams, and wake most every day remembering what I have dreamt about. In fact, my dreams feel so real sometimes that I don't feel like I've been asleep. I have always looked at it as a curse, but from what you've just explained here, it may be a blessing.

    1. Yes, it could be. Most people stuggle to remember any dreams, except for the occasional heart-stoppping nightmare.

  2. I like this, Rachel.


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