The science of 'sleeping on it' can lead to major breakthroughs
Sleep improves our ability to come up with creative solutions to problems, say psychologists in the US
When Larry Page was a 22-year-old graduate student at Stanford in the 90s, he was struck in the middle of the night with a vision: He had somehow managed to download the entire Web and just keep the links.
During a 2009 University of Michigan commencement speech, he said he immediately grabbed a pen when he awoke and wrote down what became the basis for an algorithm. He used this algorithm to power a new Web search engine now known as Google.
"When a really great dream shows up, grab it!" the Google cofounder and now Alphabet CEO advised.
The idea of harnessing our dreams is nothing new, Arianna Huffington points out in her sleep manifesto, "The Sleep Revolution," and many major breakthroughs, like our understanding of the structure of molecules and the periodic table of elements, were the result of dreams.
"During sleep the neurons of the brain are reorganised, so we see new patterns, we see solutions, where before we could only see obstacles," she says.
According to psychologists from UC San Diego, sleep improves our ability to come up with creative solutions to problems by assisting the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories and forging connections among them. REM sleep works better than any other state of being at fostering creative thinking, they conclude.
Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Sleep Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, also found that if an incubation period — a time in which a person leaves an idea for a while — includes sleep, people are 33 per cent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas.
"How often have we woken up with clarity about a problem or having resolved an emotional issue? That's why dreams are so important," Huffington says.
So can we use the strategy of "sleeping on it" purposely for our own good? Huffington says, "yes."
"If there is a particular problem we are grappling with, we can sort of incubate it by putting the question to our subconscious before we go to sleep and asking for some clarity and resolution," she explains. "Very often, I get clarity and resolution when I sleep, which is a very productive way to handle our sleep time."
She suggests keeping a dream journal and a pen with a flashlight attached to it next to your bed. Before you go to sleep ask, "In what area of my life would I like to receive guidance? What question do I want answered?" Then write it down and focus on this problem or idea as you drift off to sleep.
"You sort of give the message to your subconscious that you value your dreams and you want to remember them," she says.
When you wake up the next morning, remain totally still to allow for better "dream recall," and once you have it secure in your mind, write down any parts of the dream you remember, even if it's just one word, image, or impression.
"Before letting the outside world in, taking a momentary pause and a few deep breaths can help you recall more of your dreams, reliving the paths traveled while in your dream world," Huffington writes in her book. "As we learn to recognise the hidden meanings beneath the surface of the everyday, it becomes easier to listen to the inner whisperings that tend to get drowned in the cacophony of our waking life."