Salvador Dali's bizarre sleep technique increases creativity - study

Researchers investigated if Salvador Dali's unconventional sleep technique actually increases creativity and inspiration. They proved that it may well work for you too. 

 SALVADOR DALI always cut an imposing figure. (photo credit: ROGER HIGGINS)
SALVADOR DALI always cut an imposing figure.
(photo credit: ROGER HIGGINS)

Renowned surrealist Salvador Dali had an unusual method of getting inspired. When he decided to take a nap on his chair after a long day of thinking about liquid watches and swans reflected in elephants (themes in his paintings) he would take a bunch of keys in his hand, place it on the edge of his chair and nod off in a light sleep. There was a metal tray on the floor and when he would really fall asleep, the keys would fall out of his hand, hit the tray with a loud noise and wake him up.

Like American inventor Thomas Edison, who used the same technique, Dali believed that sleeping this way gave him a creative boost. As soon as the object hit the tray, he would wake up and return to work. Many people think he was talented, but researchers only recently tested whether this technique will work even on people who aren’t similarly gifted. 

Surprisingly, they found it works.

In a study published in Science Advances, the research team said that they distributed mathematical problems to participants, each of which had a hidden rule that if found could solve the problem "almost immediately.” 

After failing to solve the problems, participants were divided into three groups before trying again to solve the problem: people who stayed awake, people who were allowed to sink into a shallow sleep phase of non-rapid eye movements (known as N1) for more than 30 seconds and those who were permitted to drift deeper into sleep for at least 30 seconds.

Participants again tried to solve the problems to try to find the hidden rule. 

Researchers found that participants who spent at least 15 seconds in N1 tripled their chances of finding the hidden rule, implying increased creative thinking, than those who remained awake during the break. Eighty-three percent of people who entered the N1 sleep cycle were able to identify the rule compared to only 30% of the awake group.

"Here, we show that joint brain activity in the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness (non-rapid sleep in eye movement phase 1 or N1) ignites creative sparks," the authors stated, adding that "we believe N1 provides an ideal cocktail for creativity."

However, if they reached deeper sleep levels known as N2, monitored experimentally using an electroencephalogram, the effect passed.  

The authors added that these results show that an incubation period, which is a short period of N1, has a significant effect on insight. But the beneficial effect disappears when people fall into a deeper sleep.

Researchers claim that Dali and Edison's technique is easy to do because people just need to hold a simple object. They added that anyone who wants to be creative should try the technique.

Further research is needed on why the technique works, but the team says that N1 is accompanied by involuntary, spontaneous, dreamlike movements which creatively combine the last awake experiences by tying them with loosely related memories.They add that these hypnotic experiences can be seen as an exaggerated version of awake spontaneous thoughts (wandering thoughts), which foster the creation of new ideas.

Therefore, if you can deal with the frustration of an annoying sudden end to a brief nap, try this technique and see if it boosts your creative spirit.