Thomas Edison was a great inventor, but that doesn’t mean he was never stuck with ideas. Have you ever wondered what Edison would do then? Will he turn?”peek at the post” cNikola Tesla or not?
In fact, when Edison couldn’t figure out what to do next, he would hold a steel ball in his hand and go to sleep. Edison lay on a bench, releasing his hands outwards.
The purpose is that when he has just fallen asleep, the hand that relaxes will cause the steel ball to fall to the ground and wake him up. Edison said it was precisely this ambiguity between sleep and awakening that he reached his peak of creativity. That may be the secret that helped Edison bring inventions from dreams to reality.
More than 100 years after Edison’s naps, a team of scientists from the Paris Institute of Brain Research are now trying to recreate his trick. The results showed that those who followed Edison’s sleep formula tripled their chances of solving a difficult math problem.
It’s clear that this wake-up trick has some effect on the brain. Once again we see that Edison was right, but in an area that was not his specialty.
Hypnagogia: Fountain of Creation
As you may not know, sleep and wakefulness are not two sides of the same coin. To go from wakefulness to sleep, scientists say we must go through a transition period known as hypnagogia.
In a nutshell, hypnagogia is a semi-conscious state that lasts a few minutes before you fall into a deep sleep. Different from another interesting phenomenon known as lucid dreaming which we rarely come across, hypnagogia occurs naturally before each of your sleep.
During this transition, you may have super-short dreams. The content of these dreams is often random and most of the time you won’t have any memories of them when you wake up. Hypnagogia is therefore likened to a wild frontier, because this stage of sleep is almost unexplored and exploited by science.
Researchers suggest that hypnagogia is one of the most fascinating neurological experiences. It is described as the fountain of creation, filled with wonderful illusions, ideas that would never appear in reality in hypnagogia. The question now is just how to prove and exploit that?
In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, Delphine Oudiette and her colleagues at the Paris Brain Institute reconstructed Edison’s sleep in 103 volunteers.
First, they were asked to do a problem to arrange 8 numbers into a sequence with the given formula. The problem is that this problem has a new, much faster solution, which has been hidden to challenge volunteers to find.
In fact, 16 people have found a new solution after trying a few turns of the problem. Because of that, they were excluded from the experiment because Oudiette only wanted to test people who had no idea with it.
The rest of the students, after trying for a long time without finding a solution, were asked to take a 20-minute break. They were given a reclining chair with a plastic cup in their hand instead of Edison’s iron ball.
Oudiette hooked their heads to a machine that monitored the waves to know when they were awake, when they were in deep sleep, and when they were in a state of hypnagogia. Volunteers were asked to wake up the moment they heard a cup fall and report what they had dreamed of.
The results showed that most of the participants had strange images in their heads: from dancing numbers, geometric shapes, the Colosseum, to a hospital room with a horse.
But in fact the brainwave signals showed that only 24 people woke up properly during the hypnagogia phase. Others dropped a glass of water while their brains were still awake or had fallen into a deeper sleep.
Edison was right, hypnagogia is the toggle for creativity
When the volunteers were asked to go back to solving their old math problems, the dramatic results now emerged. While the researchers did not find any link between dream content and problem solving performance, they found that people who woke up in the middle of hypnagogia were three times more likely to find the hidden formula to the problem. times than those who are still awake. 20 out of 24 people (83%) found the answer, compared to just 15 out of 59 (30%) in the sober group.
The creative effect occurred even with people who spent only 15 seconds in the first stage of sleep. But this trick doesn’t work for people who have reached the late stages of sleep.
Oudiette said: “Our findings suggest that there is a creative sweet spot at the start of sleep. It’s a small window that can disappear if you wake up too early or sleep too deeply.”
But contrary to Edison’s story, the eureka moment did not come right after waking up for the volunteers participating in this study. They had to do an average of 94 math attempts after sleeping to get the most insight. Oudiette said: “Looks like you can’t take a nap and wake up with an instant solution” Instead, you need to be patient for a while.
However, sleep researcher Tore Nielsen at the University of Montreal was surprised to find that short sleep duration had such a significant effect. According to Nielsen, scientists previously thought that longer sleep time would help solve the problem.
He himself applied Edison’s trick in his personal life. Neilsen says that now that the technique has been validated, it should make research on sleep and creativity easier.
To answer the question of where creativity comes from, Oudiette’s team examined the brain wave patterns of volunteers who woke up from hypnagogia. She noticed they all had moderate levels of alpha waves, a slow brain wave associated with relaxation, and lower levels of delta waves, a sign of deep sleep.
Oudiette says researchers can now focus on this brain marker when investigating the neural mechanisms of creative activity. Her team planned an experiment to help people achieve this creative window area by monitoring their brain waves in real time.
Ideally, we could prolong the duration of hypnagogia, or stimulate its brainwave pattern to appear while we are awake. Then we can create a creative switch for ourselves. Oudiette says her new research has proven some of Edison’s intuition right, and now it’s up to us to discover the rest of hypnagogia.
Reference Science, Smithsonianmag