Salvador Dalí’s unusual sleep technique for stimulating creativity may actually work

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Renowned surrealist Salvador Dalí had a somewhat unusual method of sleeping. When he was ready to go to bed (which in his case was a chair) after a long day imagining “what if the clocks could bend” or painting a picture of what it would look like if the skulls contained other skulls, he took with him a set of keys or a spoon.

He held the metal objects in his hand, which he hung on the edge of his chair. On the ground was a metal plate. As he fell asleep, the object fell from his hand, hit the plate and woke him.

Like American inventor Thomas Edison, who used the same technique, Dalí believed that this type of sleep gave him creative impetus (rather than just a fright followed by a feeling of being tired) and would start working immediately after that. the spoon has touched the plate. . Dalí was undeniably creative, but researchers recently explored whether this technique would work on ordinary members of the population.

Remarkably, he did.

Publish their work in Scientists progress, the team gave participants math problems that each had a hidden rule that would allow them to solve the problem “almost instantly” if they found it.

After trying the problem, the participants were divided into three groups before trying the problem again: people who stayed awake, people who were allowed to fall into a shallow, non-rapid stage of sleep (called N1 ) for more than 30 seconds, and those that have been allowed to drift deeper into non-rapid eye movement sleep for at least 30 seconds.

They were then given math problems again to see if they could identify the hidden rule.

The researchers found that participants who spent at least 15 seconds in L1 sleep tripled their chances of finding the hidden rule, which involves increased creative thinking, than those who stayed awake during the break. Eighty-three percent of people who fell asleep N1 were able to spot the rule, compared to just 30 percent of the awake group.

“Here, we show that brain activity common to the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness (non-rapid eye movement stage 1 or N1 sleep) triggers creative sparks,” the authors write, adding that “we believe that N1 presents an ideal cocktail for creativity “.

However, if they reached deeper sleep levels, known as N2 – monitored in the experiment with an electroencephalogram (EEG) – the effect wore off.

“These results demonstrate that an incubation period containing a brief period of N1 has a marked effect on insight, but that this beneficial effect wears off if participants reach a deeper state of sleep.”

The team say that Dalí and Edison’s technique can be easily used.

“Because it does not require any material other than an everyday object, Edison’s technique can be applied by anyone wishing to invoke their creative muse, whether at home or in the workplace. . “

As to why this effect may occur, more study is needed, although the team has some ideas.

“N1 is accompanied by involuntary, spontaneous, and dreamlike perceptual experiences that creatively incorporate recent waking experiences by linking them to loosely associated memories,” they write.

“Such hypnagogic experiences could be viewed as an exacerbated version of spontaneous awakened thoughts (eg, mental wandering) and similarly promote the generation of new ideas.”

So if you can overcome the frustration of an incredibly abrupt end to a nap, it can be a way to give your creativity a boost. Don’t tell your boss you owe the nap everything.


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