Last month I discussed the importance of happiness to your writing. Following that, I was asked why we get some of our best ideas just before sleep or as we’re waking up.
The reason is our state of mind at these times. The floaty time before we fall sleep is called hypnagogic and the time before full awakening is hypnopompic. These times between sleeping and waking can be rich sources of inspiration.
Writer Robert Louis Stevenson, composer Wolfgang Mozart and scientist Albert Einstein are among the great thinkers who’ve said they produced some of their best ideas during these periods. Writers today can discover the same. The sense of mental and physical relaxation as well as the kinds of brainwaves we produce, may be the magic ingredients.
Measured by an encephalogram, we are known to produce Alpha and theta brainwaves as we sink into sleep, or return to wakefulness. These are the slower brainwave cycles when it’s easier to form new ideas. By practising mental and physical relaxation techniques, you can learn to produce these waves.
Like acquiring any habit, you first use your conscious mind to access the alpha-theta state. Many recorded guides are available to help. You may need to try a few to find one that suits you. I try to do a 30-minute relaxation exercise most days.
When you’re able to achieve a tranquil mood and can sustain it for a little time, you can try using it to solve writing problems or access new ideas.
Drop the problem or question into your mind like a pebble into a pool, then let it go. Don’t try to force ideas to come. Instead, trust your mind to keep working on the problem while you sleep.
Have a notebook or smart phone handy to record whatever comes up at the end of your relaxation period. While the times just before or after sleep are rich sources of inspiration, they’re not good for storing short-term memories. Unless you write your brilliant idea down you’re likely to wake up knowing you had a great idea if only you could remember what it was.
While you rest, information you may not have been aware of gathering can become more accessible. You’re also more likely to experiment with new thought combinations that you might resist if you were fully awake, a process called sleep synthesis.
5 benefits of writing while you sleep:
- The times right before and after sleep are rich sources of inspiration not always accessible when we’re wide awake.
- Of the four types of measurable brainwaves – alpha, beta, delta and theta – the alpha-theta mix is most connected with ideas and problem solving.
- You can teach yourself to produce alpha-theta brainwaves by learning and practising a relaxation technique.
- The benefits of these mind states are refreshment, reduced anxiety, creative freedom and better information processing. That’s why when you’re struggling with a writing problem, you may be advised to “sleep on it.”
- Keeping a notebook or smart phone by your bedside lets you capture any ideas and thoughts that come to you in alpha-theta meditation. In this state we don’t tend to store memories so you’ll recall having a good idea, but not what it was.
Have you thought of a great idea as you drifted off to sleep, or awoken knowing the answer to a writing problem? I’d love to share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!
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