One of the world's most well-known inventors, Thomas Edison believed that people are most creative right before they dose off. But is this true, could stopping sleep really increase our potential?
One study has been testing the effects of this belief. Researcher Delphine Oudiette has studied the association between sleep and creativity. At the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, participants were given a math problem to solve as they slowly fall asleep. Eight-digit number sequences were provided and they needed to use two rules to find the final solution. Around 16% of the subjects were able to solve it while fully awake and they were removed from the sample.
When humans begin to enter the first part of sleeping, we fall into a state known as hypnagogia or “N1." What happens here is our brain produces detailed dreams and we go into a deeper stage of REM. Edison used this time as an advantage for his inventiveness, he made himself wake up before passing through to full sleep. He did this by holding onto a heavy ball, so when he dozed off, the sound of the object falling would bring his awareness back.
Oudiette believes that time is a crucial time to explore our creative abilities. Since its right between being conscious and unconscious, our minds could go practically anywhere. It's a combination of being logical but also free in a way. "We can go exploring, but at the same time potentially identify patterns that could be useful for us," she explained, "It's a good balance."
The results of the study indicated that out of 103 subjects, 24 participants had gone through N1 for at least 30 seconds. 14 volunteers went right through the hypnagogia stage and into full sleep. And the rest never even made it to any stage, because they were awake the whole time. Interestingly, out of everyone who got to the N1, 83% of them were able to understand the math problem. In the group who never slept, only 31% of them solved it, and for those who deeply slept, 14% of participants were successful.
While more research needs to be done, the outcome of this study indicates that creativity may actually be greater as we fall asleep.