This Napping Technique Used by Salvador Dalí and Thomas Edison Might Be Ideal for Creativity, According to Science

Salvador Dalí used sleep to his creative benefit, and so can you.
Salvador Dalí used sleep to his creative benefit, and so can you. / Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

Sleep isn’t always key to productivity, especially when you get too little or too much of it. But according to a new study, a unique napping habit practiced by Thomas Edison and Salvador Dalí might be one way to unlock your creativity.

The paper was published in the journal Science Advances and was written by researchers at the Paris Brain Institute. It examined 103 participants who were instructed to allow themselves to fall asleep and reach the N1, or hypnagogia stage of sleep. In N1, people can perceive shapes, colors, and dream a bit, but aren’t yet in a deeper stage. They can still hear noises, for example.

The trick is to stay in N1 only fleetingly. Dalí and Edison would nap while holding an object like a spoon in their hands. When they began to doze, their muscles would relax and the object would fall to the floor, waking them up. They then began to go to work, believing the brief rest had improved their creativity.

In the current study, the subjects were given a cup and monitored for deeper stages of sleep using an electroencephalogram, or EEG. When they slept and the cup hit the floor, they woke up.

The tricky part is measuring creativity, which is hard to quantify. So researchers gave the subjects a math problem to solve when they woke up—one in which originality of thought would lead to a quicker answer: That’s because an easy resolution was “hidden” in the equation that would require some creative thinking to spot.

Thirty percent of people presented with the problem and who remained awake spotted the hidden solution. Eighty-three percent of those who fell into N1 sleep for a minimum of 15 seconds figured it out. But if subjects fell into deeper stages of sleep, the benefits seemed to disappear.

It’s hard to specify exactly why this brief stay in N1 can spark your brain to make more associations, but there does seem to be evidence that being in a semi-lucid state can be beneficial. It may not make you Dalí, but at least now there’s a better excuse for sleeping on the job.

[h/t Live Science]