Taking a nap can really boost creativity — here’s why
Turns out a pair of Z’s can boost your creativity.
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests there’s a link between naps and a creative mind — but timing is key.
Researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School found that the mind is “particularly fertile” during sleep onset — the earliest stage of sleep when a person drifts between sleeping and being awake.
“We found a strong effect of ‘falling asleep’ on creativity,” said study author and MIT graduate student Kathleen Esfahany. “If you’re asked to dream about a subject during sleep onset, you can have dream experiences that you can later use for these creative tasks.”
The scientists wanted to test whether naps really boost creativity and whether nap-induced creativity can be refined through suggestions.
The team used a handheld device they developed called the “Dormio,” a glove that measures skin-based electrical activity to assess three indicators of sleep onset: muscle tone shifts, heart rate, and arousal status. The Dormio then sends the data to an application in real time.
Researchers got 49 adults with an average age of 27 to wear the Dormio and divided them into four different test groups: an audio-guided sleep group, an unguided sleep group, a non-sleep group with audio guidance, and a non-sleep group without guidance.
The first group – supervised sleep – was allowed to take a nap one to five minutes after sleep onset, which lasted about seven minutes before they woke up. They were asked to recall any dreams they had had before going back to sleep and were told “don’t forget to think of a tree” – a process repeated for 45 minutes.
The second group repeated the same process as the first, but without guidance.
The non-sleeping group with audio guidance never went to sleep and was instead instructed to “get lost” for just over seven minutes before recalling memories. They were then given the same task to think about a tree.
After the 45-minute testing process, the participants were instructed to write a story using the word “tree.”
They found that both napping groups, with and without guidance, had more creativity immediately after the exercise, but “creativity was highest in the group where participants napped while dreaming of trees,” Esfahany said.
Those in the group who slept with audio guidance were found to be 43% more creative than those who napped without guidance and 78% more creative than those who stayed awake without guidance.
Sleepers with instruction also had the best divergent thinking results, as they could come up with multiple ideas for the tree and had higher levels of creativity on a word parent test. This group was also better at thinking outside the box when it came to verbal and conceptual reasoning tests.
Esfahany believes that guided napping, known as “focused dream incubation,” can boost creativity due to many factors, including being in a semi-lucid state that still allows one to be aware of external stimuli, making it “an ideal stage to accompany dreams”. and captured, and with them, potential creative insights.”
“It seems that only a few minutes is enough to observe this effect. In fact, we don’t expect that a longer nap would necessarily be better,” she said.
Researchers noted that a Dormio isn’t necessary for this creative process to work — all you need is something that can track sleep and play audio.