What if a few minutes of sleep could act as a creativity trigger? This is what a study conducted by Célia Lacaux, Delphine Oudiette (Inserm) and their collaborators at the Paris Brain Institute and the sleep pathologies department at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital AP-HP suggests. The results are published in Science Advances.
A legend about the inventor Thomas Edison tells that he used to take short naps to stimulate his creativity. During these naps, he held a metal ball in his hand. The ball would fall noisily when he fell asleep and wake him up just in time to record his creative flashes. Other famous people were also proponents of using short phases of sleep to stimulate their creative ability, such as Albert Einstein or Salvador Dali.
Inspired by this story, Célia Lacaux and Delphine Oudiette (Inserm), researchers at the Paris Brain Institute and at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital (AP-HP), wanted to explore this very particular phase of sleep and if it did indeed influence creativity. To do this, the team of scientists proposed mathematical problems to 103 participants, all of which could be solved almost instantaneously using the same rule, which was of course unknown to the participants at the beginning of the test. The subjects tried to solve the problems the first time. All those who had not found the hidden rule were invited to take a 20-minute nap under the same conditions as Edison, with an object in their hand, before taking the mathematical tests again.
"Spending at least 15 seconds in this very first phase of sleep after falling asleep tripled the chances of finding this hidden rule, through the famous "Eureka!”. This effect disappeared if the subjects went deeper into sleep" explains Célia Lacaux, first author of the study. At the same time, the team highlighted several key neurophysiological markers of this creativity-generating sleep phase.
There is therefore a phase conducive to creativity at the time of falling asleep. To activate it, we need to find the right balance between falling asleep quickly and not falling asleep too deeply. These "creative naps" could be an easy and accessible way to stimulate our creativity in everyday life.
"The sleep phase has been relatively neglected by cognitive neuroscience until now. This discovery opens an extraordinary new field for future studies, especially of the brain mechanisms of creativity. Sleep is also often seen as a waste of time and productivity. By showing that it is in fact essential to our creative performance, we hope to reiterate its importance to the public" concludes Delphine Oudiette (Inserm)
Sleep onset is a creative sweet spot
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