Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali hit on an interesting and useful concept in order to boost their creativity: the hypnagogic nap. Rather than taking a 20-minute nap where they fully fell asleep, their idea was to drift off for just a second — a micro nap, if you will. By slipping into this hypnagogic state without actually falling asleep, these men, and many others like them, were able to make sense of creative ideas.
First, what is hypnagogia? It’s that in-between state as you begin to fall asleep. This is the point where you might twitch yourself awake or experience hallucinations and sleep paralysis. It’s also when your logical ideas begin to blend with the illogical, when your concrete knowledge begins to blend with your subconscious. The benefit is that you can see an issue or an obstacle from a new angle, since your subconscious is being released onto the idea that you want to tackle.
So how are people able to take such tiny, yet mentally lucrative, naps? Edison would sit in a chair and hold ball bearings in his hands, placing aluminum plates on the floor directly beneath his hands. The moment he slipped into slumber, the ball bearings would fall onto the plates and wake him up, so he could still consciously grasp at the ideas that his subconscious had begun to formulate in the hypnagogic state.
Similarly, Dali would hold a heavy key between his thumb and forefinger so that it could easily slip out of his grasp as soon as he began to fall asleep. The noise of the key falling onto a plate underneath it woke him up, just as with Edison. Conscious again, he felt that he could work more creatively.
Most people are unable to remember any kind of hallucinations, revelations, or conclusions that happen during the hypnagogic state as they fall asleep at night. It’s such a fleeting period of time that, when followed by actual sleep, it’s generally lost to the conscious mind upon waking. But by putting your body in a situation where you’ll wake up before moving into sleep, you retain the ability to harness the ideas and creativity that are let loose during your hypnogogic nap.
If you want to try it out yourself, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it will probably take some practice before you’re able to perfect your nap. Just like all great things, it takes practice.
Second, you should have a pretty thorough understanding of the topic on your mind. The combination of your conscious knowledge and your subconscious ideas is the recipe that allows you to see more insightfully into the issue, so you need to know the ins and outs of the problem or situation.
Third, make sure to have a pencil and paper at the ready, and write down all of your ideas and insights immediately after reentering the conscious world. Regardless of how crazy they may be, record them, and then analyze them to determine which ideas could actually lead to something, and which merely seem promising.
Alright. I think you’re ready to join the likes of Edison and Dali. Happy hypnagogy, and may your ideas bloom with creativity!