Feel like you are missing out on eureka moments? Take a nap! That is what Thomas Edison used to do. Edison is known to napped while holding a ball in each hand, presuming that, as he fell asleep, the orbs would fall to the floor and wake him. This way he could remember the sorts of thoughts that come to us as we are nodding off, which we often do not recall. Edison believed he was able to bring back useful ideas from the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness. His long record of exceptional creativity suggests that the idea might not be as wacky as it first appears.
Modern science research is now backing it up. Published recently in Science Advances, a new study reports that we have a brief period of creativity and insight in the semilucid state that occurs just as we begin to drift into sleep. The findings imply that if we can harness that liminal haze between sleep and wakefulness–known as a hypnagogic state-we might recall our bright ideas more easily.
Researchers asked 103 volunteers to solve a math puzzle after trying a version of Edison’s tennis ball nap trick while hooked up to a machine that monitors sleep. The subjects who hovered just on the edge of sleep – a stage modern sleep researchers refer to a N1 – were vastly better at cracking the tricky problem.
If we want to try this ourselves, researchers suggest setting an alarm for 20 minutes into the future, and simply allowing your mind to drift. You may sometimes fall too deeply asleep to maximize creativity, but many times the alarm might just catch you as you’re drifting through the weird and fertile twilight zone of N1. Keep a notebook by your side to capture any ideas you retrieve.
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