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Spark Creativity with Thomas Edison’s Napping Technique

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Spark Creativity with Thomas Edison’s Napping Technique

Waking yourself from the twilight state just before sleep may help you to solve a challenging problem, a study shows

Scientific American,

5 min read
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A new study shows that awakening just before sleep helps people solve problems and fuels creativity.

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  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


Some of the world’s great thinkers and creative minds eschewed sleep, or used it to delve into the mind’s deepest insights. A new study indicates that one particular stage of sleep known as “N1” may contain the human brain’s strongest affinity for clearly seeing elusive problems and defining creative ideas. In the future, people may be able to harness this state of mind, and use it to solve real-world tasks.


Inventor Thomas Edison considered sleep a waste of his time.

The light bulb creator claimed in an 1889 interview that he only slept about four hours a night. But Edison relied upon one particular sleep period to spark his creative thoughts – the time just before he fell asleep, during which thoughts that occur to most people are lost. He reportedly took naps holding balls in both hands. He assumed that as he drifted into sleep, the balls would fall and wake him up. This allowed him to grasp and remember what was occurring to him in the moments before he fell asleep.

A recent study published in Science Advances suggests Edison’s sleep theory could be correct.

The study indicates that some people experience notable creativity in the brief, semi-lucid mental state which occurs as they fall asleep, called “N1 or nonrapid-eye-movement sleep stage 1.” The study assumed that harnessing this “hypnagogic state” might help people remember important ideas.

Delphine Oudiette and her colleagues at the Paris...

About the Author

Bret Stetka is a writer based in New York City and editorial director of Medscape Neurology (a subsidiary of WebMD). His work has appeared in Wired, NPR and The Atlantic. He graduated from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 2005.

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