Have you ever had a eureka moment right after you've curled up in your bed, ready to go to sleep? Well, this happens to me ALL THE TIME; my best ideas always annoyingly pop up when I'm ready to shut my brain down and I have to scramble to get a piece of paper to jot it down.
On a recent night, I was wondering whether this was just me, or whether there's actually something going on in your brain before you sleep . . . so I decided to do some research, and here's what I found:
The Science Behind Your Eureka Moment
Apparently, cognitive scientists have found out that there's a phenomenon called "pattern recognition" that takes place in the brain only when it is in a very relaxed state. In this process, the brain is relaxed enough to make new connections and allow new neural pathways to form. This helps us find creative solutions for problems we otherwise might not have thought of.
Another point to take note of is that when we enter sleep, the brain steadily dismantles the models and concepts we use to interpret the world, leading to moments of experience unconstrained by our usual mental filters.
This also explains why we come up with the most creative solutions or ideas in the shower, on a walk, lying in bed at night, or even sleeping. The brain is simply relaxed enough to let those connections take place. A University of California at Berkeley study found that sleep can foster "remote associates," or unusual connections, in the brain — which could lead to a major "a-ha" moment upon waking.
Upon waking from sleep, people are 33 percent more likely to make connections between seemingly distantly related ideas.
So, bottom line, when we sleep or we're simply very relaxed, we don't process things with our usual mental filters in place, which can help us make seemingly unrelated connections.
In fact, Steven Kotler in Psychology Today explains that this is a pretty popularly known fact among creatives. Here's how you can take advantage of it:
1. Get Inspired in Bed
Swap out your phone for a thought-provoking book to read before bed (your phone isn't doing your sleep any favors anyway). Reading before bed can help prime your mind for creative thinking and you may wake up with a fresh new idea you hadn't thought of previously. (Just stay away from those thrillers!)
2. Ask Yourself Questions (and Then Forget About Them)
It can be very useful to ask yourself hard questions right before bed so that your brain can tackle it when you sleep. The key here is to forget about the question immediately to help that part of your brain that works quietly in the background rev up. Chances are, you'll wake up with a creative solution you hadn't thought of.
3. Keep a Notepad Beside Your Bed to Jot Down Ideas
Here's your solution for all those pesky eureka moments. Whenever you're thinking of something you hadn't previously considered, jot it down so that you won't forget it or dismiss it the morning when you're mental filters are in place. It doesn't matter if the idea's not fully developed; even if it doesn't quite make sense then, it might be significant after you process it in sleep.
4. Try Lucid Dreaming
"What is lucid dreaming?" you ask. Worry not, I had no clue either. Essentially, lucid dreaming is dreaming while being conscious of the fact that you're having a dream. According to psychophysiologist and lucid dream expert, Stephen LaBerge, "You could stay in that dream and then use it to explore impossible realities somehow."
Woah. Sounds like something out of a fantasy novel, right? Well yes, getting to that lucid dreaming state takes a lot of practice and training your brain to recognize when you're dreaming. A few ways to do this is asking yourself throughout the day whether you're dreaming so that you'll subconsciously remember to do the same when you're in a dream state. Waking up in the middle of the night, remembering the dream you were having and then going back to sleep, conscious that you were having this dream can also help you enter a lucid dream state.
LaBerge calls these steps the mnemonic induction of lucid dreaming or MILD technique. Why should you try this? Well, LaBerge explains, "It would give you a great deal of freedom. You're limited not by the usual laws of physics and laws of society and other external constraints on you as we are limited greatly in waking life. You are limited only by what the limits of the mind might be." Definitely worth giving a shot. After all, you have nothing to lose.
Well, next time you have an a-ha moment in bed, now you know what's going on behind the scenes. And now you have an excuse for sleeping in today . . . sweet dreams!