Hypnagogia, The State Between Sleep And Wakefulness, Is Key To Creativity

We’re all familiar with the two basic states of consciousness: sleep and wakefulness. But what about what happens in between those states?

In the borderlands between wakefulness and rest is a strange and fascinating state of consciousness characterized by dream-like visions and strange sensory occurrences. Psychologists call this stage “hypnagogia,” but centuries before they created a term for it, artists were using the hypnagogic state to tap into some of their best ideas.

Surrealist artist Salvador Dali called hypnagogia “the slumber with a key,” and he used it as creative inspiration for many of his imaginative paintings.

“You must resolve the problem of ‘sleeping without sleeping,’ which is the essence of the dialectics of the dream, since it is a repose which walks in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire which separates sleeping from waking,” Dali wrote in the book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.

Mary Shelley, too, said she got the inspiration for Frankenstein from a “waking dream” in the wee hours of the morning, writing, “I saw with eyes shut, but acute mental vision,” according to The Guardian.

During this state, the mind is “fluid and hyperassociative,” giving rise to images that can “express layers of memories and sensations,” dream researcher Michelle Carr explained in a Psychology Today blog.

You experience some phenomena of sleep while you are still able to be awake and remember them.”
Neurologist Dr. Milena Pavlova

Similar to REM sleep — the state of deep sleep when our dreams occur — the mind is cycling through thoughts, ideas, memories and emotions, making free and often distant associations between diverse concepts. But unlike REM, during hypnagogia you’re conscious enough to be at least partially aware of what’s going on.

“There can be fragments of rapid eye movement sleep occurring in —> Read More

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