When it comes to problem solving, getting enough sleep may truly be the secret to success.
Take the case of Kate Miller, the owner of Charlie's Playhouse, a maker of science education toys. Miller had been wrestling with a problem for weeks. But one morning the answer popped into her mind as she woke up. She wanted to design a game that would teach kids about natural selection while letting them run around and have fun.
This fall, USA Network will air the 100th episode of the hit detective series, Monk. “It should be a lot of fun,” says actor Tony Shalhoub, 54, who has played the title character for seven seasons. “Especially because Monk really likes the number 100.”
Adrian Monk, for those not in the know, is a warm and brokenhearted detective who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental illness with specific traits that Shalhoub says are not all that hard for him to identify with. Brilliant crime fighter...
"It was the sleep that brought it all together," says Miller, 42, of Providence, R.I. "I ran downstairs, got a big pad of paper, and started sketching and writing."
Artists have long intuited a link between creativity and sleep, but scientists are beginning to nail down the connection. There's evidence that sleep, specifically the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage associated with dreaming, helps organize and link together in novel ways the facts we know and the things we experience.
How Sleep Boosts Creativity
"Creativity is the ability to connect disparate ideas in new and useful ways," says Sara C. Mednick, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. Her research indicates that REM sleep might enhance creative problem-solving by helping the brain associate seemingly unrelated ideas.
During the day, an area of the brain called the hippocampus takes in information and lets us hold it in our minds. It knows why you learned the information, Mednick says. For example, the hippocampus may learn that you need to turn at the red building to reach the doctor's office. During REM sleep, the hippocampus shuts down and allows the information it stored to move into the neocortex, the part of the brain that holds the sum of all of your experiences. Once a memory or experience reaches the neocortex, it can be associated with all the other memories.
And that's where creativity happens, Mednick says. The neocortex might match that shade of red on the building with the need to come up with the color for a toy, and voilà! Priming your brain to make these new connections seems to be key, research shows. An idea might seem to come out of nowhere, but in fact, it's the end of a process that may have begun days ago.
Miller says her crazy, beautiful, and totally new ideas come to her when she wakes up. "They always make me jump out of bed and run to write them down."