In my new book “Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking” I devote an entire chapter to how dreaming can impact your creativity. The idea that creative breakthroughs can happen during dreaming is as old as the ancient world. The Bible as well as other ancient writings are filled with references to men and women receiving divine messages during dreams, and written records of creative insights while we’re asleep have continued right up to the present. The Victorian age experienced an explosion of serious scientific study of dreams.
The problem is, there is just as much scientific disagreement on the subject as there are reports of success.
Many people have testified to the creative insights discovered in dreams from writers like Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, to inventors like Elias Howe, creator of the sewing machine. More recently, when he lay in bed in Rome during an illness working on his movie Piranha II, film director James Cameron dreamed of a horrifying robot walking out of a fire to attack a woman. Out of that experience, he wrote the screenplay and directed the film Terminator.
Artists like Salvador Dali, inventors like Thomas Edison, and even physicist Albert Einstein understood the power of the stage of sleep we call “nodding off.” At that moment, theta waves predominate in the brain, and over the years, many creative people have attributed that moment to a flush of breakthrough ideas.
Personally, I regularly have epic dreams, and sometimes even in the same night, I’ll wake up, fall back asleep, and then pick up where the last dream left off. One recurring dream that’s been going on for years and “drives” me crazy is finding myself driving a car backwards. For whatever reason, I’m careening down a hill, twisting my head, so I can see out the back, picking up speed, trying to avoid cars coming the other way, and I can’t stop. I’ll often wake up in a complete sweat from the stress of what it must feel like right before a massive car accident.
As a result of having so many vivid dreams, for years I kept a dream journal, and every morning I would write down whatever I’d dreamed about the previous night—no matter how crazy and odd.
What have I learned from the experience? In my case, I don’t discover complete answers in dreams, but I do make connections. During those moments in my sleep, my subconscious is released to make (sometimes weird) connections I would have never made in my conscious mind.
As a result, things suddenly make sense, or at the very least, I have new insight into the problem or creative challenge. I would encourage you to watch my podcast episode titled 10 Proven Tips to Be Creative on Demand, and for deeper study and insight, get my book “Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking.”
After all, who knows what creative insights might be waiting for you in your dreams!