Do we get our best ideas before falling asleep?

Before we sleep, an influx of thoughts and ideas rush into our heads. Mainly it’s an annoyance, but there is always that one thought that seems to be a brilliant idea. The next day, whether you have forgotten it or remember it, it still influences your daily brainstorming. 

We can get some of our best ideas right before we go to bed. According to Science Focus, the reason is because “The transition from wakefulness to sleep is called the ‘hypnagogic state,’ and this is thought, anecdotally, to be associated with creativity.” The “hypnagogic state” is the transitional state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep.

The ideas we get during the hypnagogic state are more creative than the ideas we get when awake. Instead of stressing about making a perfect plan and what could possibly go wrong, we become more bold and ambitious.

When our minds are not shackled by the stress of the rules and limitations that we put on ourselves during the day, we have more freedom to explore new possibilities. According studies on the hypnagogic sleep onset period, this period “precisely engages these networks instrumental to creativity” and could also “foster the generation of novel ideas “

When I am writing a paper, I take time to look for ideas that would be interesting for me and engaging to my readers. But during the day when I am completely awake, I limit myself to what I know and my ideas become boring.  In contrast, during the hypnagogic state, I lose the focus on being perfect and instead focus on crazy ideas that seem great. They are so weird and crazy that they push my mind toward unknown ideas that would be fleeting and immediately scrapped if I were awake. 

When I wake up, usually I forget or back out of those ideas because they are so crazy, but I then get a new outlook on problems that I have to face. I take those crazy ideas and I edit them to fit reality, creating an idea that was better than what I could have imagined during my normal brainstorming. 

For essays I might take an idea I had about dinosaurs during the day. Before I go to bed and I enter the hypnagogic state I think about this idea and ask myself, “Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs vs. roller bladers. Who will win?” When I wake up in the morning, obviously I would obviously not use that idea for an essay, but the idea of dinosaurs vs. roller bladers creates a path to a new idea. In the end I would write an essay about the speed of dinosaurs compared to human inventions like bikes or cars, and if in fact there were still dinosaurs around today, could we outrun them? This is a much more interesting idea than what I could have thought of without the influence of the hypnagogic state. My idea would have ended at “dinosaurs: which was most deadly?”–something that is boring and overused.  

The thoughts that we have during the hypnagogic state may be ideas that seem too crazy to use in our daily lives, but those ideas have the most potential to create something fun and interesting to explore. Don’t brush off the thoughts you remember from your hypnagogic state; instead, utilize them because you get your most creative thoughts during that time.