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  • Dr. Patricia A. Farrell

Dreams and Their Power to Incite Creativity



Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. — Edgar Allan Poe One-third of our lives is spent sleeping. Calculating the average lifespan with the usual six to seven hours slept indicates that we will sleep for twenty-five years. Who wouldn’t want 25 more years to work on projects? Tacking on leap year adds another seven days over the 9,125 days you’ll sleep normally. Do you think of sleep as useless time spent doing nothing but letting your body rest and cleanse your brain? Thomas Edison disputed the need for sleep, although he napped throughout the day. Keeping his scientists awake for as long as possible, there is an apocryphal tale of his having brought a brass band into the lab to keep them awake. Anyone wishing to read about this genius who lived to 102 can fetch his biography here. You need to toss something else into your nocturnal journey if you want to be a creative entrepreneur, creative dreaming. Two hours of every night, we are dreaming, and we can put that to better use. Many books and Youtube videos will give you the specifics and personal details of strong advocates of the process and its benefits. Dream/sleep researchers, such as Dr. Nathaniel Kleitman and Dr. William C. Dement, wrote extensively about the stages of sleep and the one in which we dream REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. At this stage, our minds are most active in formulating fantastic journeys, engaging in problem-solving and creativity in a world of imagination. We are free to fly. Interest has been so intense in dreaming that we no longer suffer from a paucity of journal articles or books on the subject of sleep and creativity. And perhaps one that stands out is a manuscript that saw it as an incubator of the creative. Dreams may bring to the fore solutions hidden during waking hours but remain, during those hours, in our conscience. Sleep may provide the degree of freedom needed to see new answers.


Famous People, Famous Dreams

Mary Shelley had a dream that resulted in her writing, “Frankenstein.” As she related it, the idea for the story came…in a dream which she says “arose before my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.

The writer John Steinbeck was a great believer in sleep as a problem-solving time and is quoted as saying: “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

A possible apocryphal account of how Elias Howe devised the design, actually the needle portion, of the modern sewing machine indicates it came to him in a dream. In the dream, his task was to invent a sewing machine and, if he did not complete the machine and make it within 24 hours, he would be killed.

He noticed that soldiers, who were waiting to execute him during the dream, had pierced heads on their spears. In the morning, he awakened to run to his workshop and craft the needle. The rest is history.

David Parkinson, the inventory of a computer-assisted antiaircraft gun, said the idea came to him in a dream.

Of course, Steve Jobs's admonition to “dream bigger” was an allusion not to actual dreaming, but who knows? There’s dreaming and daydreaming, and who can say the latter isn’t as valuable as the former?


Photo by elizabeth lies

Actions to Take Before/After Dreaming


Keep a notepad and pen, tape recorder, or whatever will help you to detail your dreams in the morning immediately. Then, begin to do the following:

  1. Keep a dream diary. Each time you wake up and remember the dream, write it down. This is invaluable information that is free from your critical self and allows your creative self to be expressed.

  2. How can the contents of the dream be rendered into a more utilitarian product or service? Engage with your dreams. What is it telling you? It’s a puzzle that you must put together in a reasonable, rational way, and it is made up of seemingly totally irrational items, actions, or thoughts.

  3. Set a task for yourself for that night’s dream stint.

  4. A creative genius is hiding in a closet that can only be opened when you sleep. This genius reveals itself during sleep but depends on you to see the clues it is leaving for you in terms of creativity. Think breadcrumbs, and you’ll begin to see what is before you.


Photo by Tadas Mikuckis

Cued Memory for Greater Retention

Want to provide yourself with a greater ability to remember something? During sleep, you have another mechanism that will do this, and it’s quite simple. The technique is called cued memory reactivation and sleep learning.

“In typical experimental paradigms, sensory cues, like odors or sounds, are presented, while the participants are being trained on a memory task. When participants are tested on their memory performance later, they typically show improved recall if they received the reminder cues during sleep compared with control conditions without cueing.”

Simply put, if you want to use this cueing process, play a specific piece of music as you work on a project where memory is crucial, or use some scent cues (it could be the smell of coffee or incense). Go to sleep after you’ve completed your task for the night and the next day, reintroduce the cue you’ve picked as your trigger for the memory.

Sleep is also a means of memory consolidation, so the best time to go to sleep is right after you’ve worked on a task. Theoretically, this might even work if you took a nap after a task you wish to store in memory. Think Thomas Edison, who had 1,093 patents and took naps throughout the day, even having a cot in his laboratory.

Research has shown sleep to be a powerful tool for memory and problem-solving. “Problem-solving is part of everyone’s daily life; while we use tricky puzzles in our study, the underlying cognitive processes could relate to solving any problem on which someone is stuck or blocked by an incorrect approach,” Sanders explains.”

According to research over many decades, dismissing sleep would be a terrible waste of an opportunity to increase your creativity. It is vital for your physical and mental health and can add something you may not have realized before — creativity.


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