It turns out, we aren’t the first to try and turn lemons into lemonade, or nightmares into inspiration, so to speak. There’s a creative writing practice that recommends writing in the time between sleep and wake, a time often called hypnagogia. Hypnagogia is a term used both for the time when falling asleep and waking up and the kind of half-consciousness that comes with both of those times. The idea is that the structure we often think of as necessary to write, maybe starting the day with your coffee, looking over your notes, gathering your thoughts, leaves a lot of room for procrastination and over-thinking. The time is never right, the thoughts never feel collected enough. But if we forget all about that and take advantage of the grogginess of sleepiness, we can break out of those habits and maybe stumble upon something very creative. The idea is to pick up a pen or open up your keyboard in the first moments you’re awake or the time right before you’re fully asleep - and then just see what happens.
You don’t have to be a writer to set this kind of creativity free, of course. If you have a project on your mind, a piece of art you’ve been wanting to make, a business idea that’s still nascent, you can apply this same idea.
There’s a history of creativity tapping into the in-between states of sleep. A Huffington Post article about the topic quotes Salvador Dali:
“You must resolve the problem of ‘sleeping without sleeping,’ which is the essence of the dialectics of the dream, since it is a repose which walks in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire which separates sleeping from waking,” Dali wrote in the book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.
Psychologists believe that hypnagogia is the state right before sleep, when you’re being led into slumber. Tapping into this state is the key to really letting your creativity flow. It’s when we have those weird thoughts that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, when memories come back crystal clear, even though we aren’t sure why. It feels a bit hallucinatory, but then again, so do dreams, right? Night-owls might already be onto these theories, those of us who are most productive late at night might be tapping into some of this energy without realizing it.
If writing something down when you’re half asleep feels like too much homework for you, try just paying attention to those thoughts, give them a little more merit than just late night wandering right before you fully shut off.
There’s a lot that science can’t explain about sleep, particularly the link between sleep and creativity, but there’s something we know for sure: getting comfy in your favorite set of pajamas is a good place to start. So, let’s all do a little experiment together and next time we’re working out an idea, trying to tap into creativity, for whatever reason, let’s try to write down some notes in the time between sleep and wake and see what happens. Try keeping a notebook on your nightstand, and go ahead and write something down when an idea pops up - even if it’s with the lights off! Maybe your brain will make a bit of magic!