I’ve just found an article from The Psychologist that examines historical accounts of sometimes world-changing ideas which have seemed to arrive during sleep or dreaming.
The article looks at inspirational slumber which has inspired everything from sewing machine designs to the theory of relativity.
The author, psychologist Josephine Ross, has discovered some great examples. My favourite being from horror writer Stephen King on how the plot for his novel Misery came to him when he fell asleep on a plane.
Ross notes that people’s own insight into whether the dream was genuinely the inspiration may not be entirely accurate.
They may just have been ‘incubating’ the idea (having it ‘at the back of the mind’) and because we sleep so often, it might be easy to attribute it to last night’s dreaming.
However, a study published in Nature in 2004 suggested that sleep might genuinely help in problem solving.
The researchers found that volunteers asked to complete maths problems were three times more likely than sleep-deprived participants to figure out a hidden rule for solving the problem if they had eight hours of sleep.
Link to Psychologist article ‘Sleep on a problem… it works like a dream’.