BOB HIRSHON (host):
Dreaming up answers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Many creative thinkers, including artists, musicians and scientists, report getting new insights through dreams. Harvard clinical psychologist Deirdre Barrett studies creative dreaming, and has found that t he dreaming brain specializes in visual-spatial solutions.
Problems that start off as visual always get solved in a straightforward visual way in the dream, but things that are more of a word problem or math problem often get represented in images, because that seems to be the part of the mind that’s most active during dreaming.
She says dreams also excel at solving problems requiring outside the box thinking, probably because our prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that filters out ideas that are silly or inappropriate—is quiet during sleep, allowing unusual ideas to surface. She says visualizing a problem before going to sleep, and having paper, pen and a flashlight on a bedside table frequently yields valuable new insights. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.
If you want to hear Dr. Barrett discuss sleep in detail, check out this podcast on the Science of Dreaming from the American Psychological Association:
A study titled Increased Creative Thinking in Narcolepsy looks at creativity in patients with narcolepsy, a condition characterized by a sudden onset of REM-stage sleep. Since creativity has been associated with this stage of sleep, the authors wanted to see if narcolepsy patients were more creative than a control group.
Researchers are also looking at the effects of daytime napping on different types of creativity.
And this study looks at our ability to enhance the creativity-boosting qualities of our sleep.