Hypnagogic creativity, or why your best ideas hit when you’re falling alseep

Every now and then, I find a book that I want everyone I know to read. The last time this happened, I bought a half-dozen or so copies of Michael Pollan’s eminently readable “Food Rules” and gave one each to friends and family.

This time round, it’s Anne Miller’s “How to get your ideas adopted (and change the world)“, which I’ve bought now for a few people and recommended to several more.

A tweet by Danielle Baiz – a Miami-born, Trinidad-based, copywriter – prompted me to go back to one of my favourite sections of Miller’s book, on “accessing hypnagogic creativity”:

The transition between wakefulness and sleep is also a very productive time [for idea generation]. Many great creative individuals deliberately use the hypnagogic state (falling asleep) and hypnopompic state (waking from sleep) to generate ideas…

…This state is very productive. This is because when we are dreaming we make strange associations and connections between things, probably as part of the process or learning and memory. It can very often produce new creative insights, but normally the chemical noradrenaline is produced to stop us remembering them and getting confused with reality. In the hypnagogic and hypnopompic state, however, we are still dreaming, but the brain has stopped producing noradrenaline so we can remember the results.

Source: Anne Miller, “How to get your ideas adopted (and change the world)“, page 52 (paperback edition)

Miller reiterates the well-worn advice that you should always have a pencil and paper (or laptop, or smartphone) next to the bed, the better to sieze on those moments of “sleepy creativity”.

Crucially, she adds:

If you wake in the nght with an idea, jot it down, but, unless you want a sleepless and productive night, do not try to work on it analytically until the morning.

Source: Miller, “How to get your ideas adopted (and change the world)“, page 53 (paperback edition)

Sweet dreams.

You’re most creative when you’re at your groggiest – Research Digest
How to use the Hypnagogic for Creative Problem Solving – Jeff Warren


One thought on “Hypnagogic creativity, or why your best ideas hit when you’re falling alseep

  1. I’m happy to know that I inspired this post! I think that this phenomenon has something to do with that magical place somewhere between consciousness/subconsciousness. Your mind is still functioning,,yet it’s free from the constraints/limitations that you sometimes impose on yourself when you are operating at ‘full consciousness.’ I’m sure you understand what I mean.. either way,,i will be keeping a pen and a pad next to my bed from here on out.. 😀

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