Today’s episode focuses on a second but very different function of dreaming: the ingenious processing and interconnection of memories that inspires creativity and even problem-solving ability.
Matt describes how we can think of REM sleep dreaming as a form of informational alchemy, in which we build new connections. As a consequence, we wake the next morning with a mind-wide web of associations capable of divining solutions to previously impenetrable problems.
A great illustration of dream-inspired creativity is the chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, who had been trying for years to solve arguably the greatest problem of his time: how do all of the elements in the universe fit together? When Mendeleev finally lay down to sleep, his dreaming brain came up with the Periodic Table. It’s not just in the sciences that we’ve seen dream-inspired insight. Consider, for example, Sir Paul McCartney’s origination of the songs “Yesterday” and “Let It Be,” both of which came to McCartney in his dreams.
Matt and his team conducted a study which found that participants were 30% better at solving cognitive problems when they were woken up out of a REM sleep dreaming state. Moreover he found that the way you solve problems is different when you’re coming out of REM sleep dreaming. Matt suggests that this reflects the biological basis of creativity. Importantly, it’s not just that you dream, but once again, what you dream about that seems to matter.
Little wonder then we’re never told to, “stay awake on a problem.” Instead, we’re told to 'sleep on it'. That phrase, or something close to it, seems to exist in most languages that Matt has enquired about, indicating that the problem-solving benefit of dream sleep is universal.
Please note that Matt is not a medical doctor, and none of the content in this podcast should be considered medical advice in any way, shape, or form, nor prescriptive in any way.
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