How Daydreaming Can Be Good For You

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 14, 2021
3 min read

Daydreaming has often been considered the stuff of losers and slackers. However, recent thought has shifted. Nowadays, daydreaming is known to be a natural, healthy resting state of the brain. 

Research shows that daydreaming can be used as a tool to help you through your next big decision or deadline.

Daydreaming is defined as a spontaneous experience that is not prompted by anything; no response from you is required. A single daydream usually lasts for a matter of seconds. However, it’s estimated that one-third to one-half of all waking hours are spent daydreaming.

Despite its name, daydreaming is quite different from dreaming while you sleep. Usually, daydreams are a continual stream of consciousness that follow each other in a matter of seconds. While it may seem that daydreaming is a state of rest and in many ways it is, it is also clear that a lot goes on within the brain during that time.

Daydreams occur in an area of the brain called the “default network,” which has been shown to become more stimulated as external stimuli decrease. This network mainly includes the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the temporoparietal junction. However, there is some difference in whether or not daydreaming involves both the default network as well as other more central areas of the brain.

The two different styles of daydreaming are intentional and unintentional daydreaming. Intentional daydreaming is when someone deliberately engages in daydreaming to stimulate their creativity or problem-solve.

Unintentional daydreaming is when a daydream disrupts someone. These can often interrupt as you are focusing on a task. While it can be annoying, unintentional daydreams use the same parts of the brain as intentional daydreaming.

The modern world has evolved to be fast-paced. We are inundated with information and ideas constantly. In addition, many of us now work from home, and the line between work and rest has been further blurred. This 24/7 grind can cause burnout or fatigue. Therefore, daydreaming is a proven method to decompress and relax your brain from constant stimuli.

Daydreaming’s main benefit is creativity. There is a scientific link between daydreaming and increased creativity in addition to creative input. Daydreaming has proven to improve problem-solving for non-creative tasks. This works by creating new thoughts and pathways in your brain.

Research is split on the idea that intentional daydreaming is more productive than unintentional daydreaming. While the phenomenon of multitasking and becoming distracted by daydreaming has been linked, there is also a positive link between creativity and controlled thought.

This type of intentional daydream or thought can allow you to suppress habitual associations and think in a profoundly focused way about an issue. While this way of thinking may not necessarily promote creativity, it can be helpful in the process of creativity.

The two daydreaming styles may seem oppositional. However, it is essential to understand how intentional and unintentional daydreams play in the broader schema of creativity. Creativity can be looked at as a complex set of processes that weave many different forms of thinking together. These include:

  • Insight
  • Analytic problem solving
  • Selective encoding
  • Restructuring of information

Unfortunately, the brain processes used in daydreaming and creativity are incredibly complex and are still being researched. There is no way to conclusively say whether or not intentional or unintentional daydreaming is more effective in boosting creativity. However, incorporating both forms of daydreaming is helpful in that both offer unique ways of thinking. As such, they both contribute to your ability to reach insights, explicitly creative or otherwise.