In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, researchers demonstrated that creativity can be enhanced by influencing dream content during a specific phase of sleep (called stage 1 or N1). While the role of sleep in enhancing creative thinking is relatively well-documented, the relationship between dream content and creativity remains less explored.
The N1 sleep stage, also known as Stage 1 NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, is one of the initial stages of the sleep cycle. During a typical night’s sleep, a person goes through several sleep stages, including NREM and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. NREM sleep consists of three stages: N1, N2, and N3, with N1 being the lightest stage and N3 the deepest.
In order to understand how incubating specific dream themes during N1 sleep influences post-sleep creativity, the study utilized the Dormio device, which tracks sleep onset, delivers auditory prompts, and collects verbal reports upon awakening. 49 participants underwent Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI), a protocol that introduces auditory cues related to a chosen theme – in this instance, the word “tree”.
Participants were grouped into four categories: Sleep Incubation (SI) and Sleep No-Incubation (SN) groups underwent TDI during sleep and were prompted upon awakening from N1 sleep to recall dreams and contemplate a tree. Meanwhile, the Wake Incubation (WI) and Wake No-Incubation (WN) groups experienced TDI while awake. Those in incubation groups were told to “remember to think of a tree” during each wake-up, while the No-Incubation groups were advised to “observe their thoughts.”
Subsequently, all participants engaged in three creativity tasks: the Creative Storytelling Task (CST), where they were asked to write a story incorporating the word “tree”; the Alternative Uses Task (AUT), where they listed as many creative uses for a tree as they could think of within three minutes; and the Verb Generation Task (VGT), where participants were presented with a list of 31 nouns and had to quickly write down the first associated verb that came to mind for each.
Results indicated that those who experienced dream incubation during N1 sleep notably outperformed their counterparts, underlining the combined benefits of N1 sleep and incubation. Furthermore, a positive relationship was observed between the frequency of “tree” references in dream reports and creative performance, thus implying that dreams centered on a particular theme can enhance related creative performance.
Finally, to investigate “how the specific content contributes to creative performance,” researcher evaluated the recurrence of particular concepts (objects, settings, or actions beyond simply the word “tree”) from reported dreams in creative task responses. The Sleep Incubation group exhibited a pronounced tendency to integrate dream content into their task responses.
Future exploration is warranted to determine the specificity and longevity of these creative advantages and consider potential inaccuracies with the Dormio device. Nevertheless, this research suggests that N1 sleep can potentially serve as creative insights.
The study, “Targeted dream incubation at sleep onset increases post-sleep creative performance“, was authored by Adam Haar Horowitz, Kathleen Esfahany, Tomás Vega Gálvez, Pattie Maes, and Robert Stickgold.