The first stage of non-REM sleep, called N1, presents an ideal environment for creativity according to the authors of a study published in Science Advances. During this “semi lucid” phase of light sleep, neural networks tied to creativity light up. The researchers explored the creative potential of N1 by assessing how well a group of participants solved a problem.
They used a number-reduction task and told participants that they would find a solution by applying “two simple rules.” The tasks also included a hidden rule that prevented participants from solving the problem faster. In a second part of the experiment, they aimed to capture participants’ thoughts right before they fell asleep.
The problem-solving skills of the group that fell into N1 sleep was 2.7 times higher (83.33%, 20 of 24 subjects) than the group who was fully awake and 5.8 times higher than the group who fell straight into deeper sleep.
During the second part of the experiment, the researchers found that the period immediately after waking up from a light N1 sleep is a “creative sweet spot.”
In addition to posing questions for future research, the researchers conclude, “by identifying sleep onset as a key period for inspiring insight, our study provides a well-identified, short window to focus on when investigating the neural mechanisms of creative problem-solving.”
Lacaux C, Andrillon T, Bastoul C, et al. Sleep onset is a creative sweet spot. Sci Adv. 2021;7(50):eabj5866. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abj5866