Creativity and Sleep
The relationship between sleeping and creativity is the subject of much folklore and even admonitions to problem-solving such as advice to "sleep on it" when faced with a tough decision. Artists have long pointed to sleep and related bodily phenomena as a source and parallel to their creative pursuits.
Creators often talk of inspiration coming during a waking period similar to a dream and daydreams have long been connected with new ideas or syntheses of existing idea or applying existing ideas in new ways.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge allegedly wrote the poem Kubla Khan after waking from an opium-induced dream, although some doubt this claim. Coleridge related the story years after he wrote the poem. Creativity may be easier to bring to fruition when the creator is in touch with unconscious and that happens during and around sleep. Scientists have found a connection between sleep and "aha!" creativity
The American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology
Early Morning Creativity
Many people report being able to do their best work immediately after awakening. What is so special about early morning? Is it just that the events of the day have yet to clutter up the mind and the creative spark can come through more clearly? Or is the proximity to recent sleep the key, especially given that most people have their longest stage of REM sleep just before waking in the morning.
If REM is a key enabler in the creative process, that might explain why creative people don’t so often mention the period following a brief daytime nap as a fertile time. While naps can be useful for improving mental performance, the kind of mental energy gained after a nap is more geared toward cranking things out rather than developing new ideas and concepts. People who do manage to get to REM in their daytime naps likewise test better at creativity after awakening than those who do not.
Insomnia as a spur to creativity
Artists have claimed that they are creative when suffering bouts of insomnia. This could be due to having more undirected time to fill than their well-sleeping peers. Or the insomnia could cause a general unrest in the mind that the creative person seeks to fill with product/art. This evidence is anecdotal and unfortunately attempts to show insomniacs are more creative have not been successful. Even if they were successful, the causal direction or connection would not be clear and we are a long way from having any theoretical explanation for insomnia and creativity. Further, sleep deprivation generally degrade mental agility and higher-order brain functions, so we would expect someone running short on sleep for an extended period to NOT be creative.
So here’s all we can say about insomnia and creativity. Occasional insomnia appears to help some people produce new art and work, but is a detriment to others. It is perhaps true that more people find it a detriment than find it useful. Long-term insomnia and the accompanying sleep debt are almost surely negative for creativity.
REM Sleep and Creativity
The dreams in REM are the most narratively coherent of any during the night. These are the dreams people most often remember.
Salvador Dali famously connected surreal paintings to dreams, and Paul McCartney says the melody for the song Yesterday came to him in a dream. (http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm)
There is a lot of pseudoscience nonsense about dreams in the bookstores. At Sleepdex we do not pay attention to the alleged mysticism or signs of dreams. However, by reframing the conscious mind, dreams can clearly spur creativity in people prone to that type of stimulus.
In a letter in Nature in 2010, scientists reported that subjects can solve 30% more anagram word puzzles when they are given the test after waking up from REM sleep than they could after non-REM sleep. More recent research published in 2012 found that sleep is particularly good at helping people solve complex problems.
Science has confirmed that REM sleep helps people be creative. At the University of California at Davis, researchers used a protocol called a Remote Associates Test (RAT) to quantify increases in creativity. They divided test subjects into three groups. One rested but did not sleep, one slept in NREM, and one slept in REM right before taking the test. Those in the waking/rest and NREM groups showed no increased in creativity as measured by RAT, whereas those recently woken from REM sleep showed an increase in capacity.(http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/21315)
UC San Diego scientists looked at the effect of sleep on solving
The psychiatrists concluded that REM sleep enhanced creative problem solving. REM seems to spark solutions to new creative problems. Older creative problems that the person has been working on – the person was able to make progress on these over time, but they did not respond to REM sleep as readily as the new problems did.
A Swiss study of adolescents found that people who are able to recall dreams (and recallable dreams typically happen in REM) tend to be more creative. (Coincidentally, girls were found to be better at recalling dreams than boys.)
The Italian scientists speculated that the low levels of the stress marker cortisol during NREM sleep play a role in allowing people to access information from deep memories and make connections that would not otherwise make.
Right Brain After Sleep
Creative solutions are often said to involve the right lobe of the brain, especially as insights for normally analytical (left brain dominant) people. Some European scientists http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829083/ did tests of learning and brain activity during sleep and found support for the hypothesis that the right side of the brain is "heard" more after sleep. The consolidation of memory during a night’s sleep occurs before an change in functional activation states in the morning. These scientists concluded the restructuring of memory responsible for this right brain boost occurred during slow-wave sleep in the first half of the night. REM sleep was said to not effect.this mechanism which the scientists speculated may contribute to insight after sleep.
Daydreaming isn’t dreaming the way dreams happen during sleep. The mind is unfocused and wanders and this may be slightly more likely when one is tired, although it can happen any time during the day. One reason we advocate quality sleep is to have quality waking, and that is often interpreted as sharp concentration. But humans benefit from daydreaming, too, as creativity is often spurred during these times.