Do Lucid Dreams Promote Creativity?

August 4, 2019

Research suggests narcolepsy—and lucid dreaming—are linked to higher creativity.

We constantly hear that dreams spark creativity. There are reports of scientific breakthroughs appearing in dreams, as well as of artistic masterpieces appearing ready-made to the dreamer (the song “Yesterday,” for instance, reportedly came to Paul McCartney in a dream). But what do we have beyond anecdotal reports of dream creativity?

In fact, recent scientific work on the issue has begun to provide very consistent support for links between REM sleep, dreaming, and creativity—with dreaming per se looking like the key ingredient.

Dream recall frequency, narrative complexity, and certain dream content indicators have all been correlated with various creativity measures in research. People who learn to “incubate” a problem in their dreams are often able to reliably dream up a solution—one that may not always solve the problem immediately, but that they later judge to have been significantly helpful in devising a “real” solution. Lucid dreaming, in particular, has been positively linked both with creativity and with problem-solving successes. But while all of these clues are suggestive and interesting, it would be beneficial to have some controlled studies on dream creativity.

A recent report by Lacaux et al. [1] comes close to that. The researchers took a novel approach to the study of dreams and creativity. They looked at people who spend a lot of time in a dreaming state and who frequently experience lucid dreams—namely, people with narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is essentially a disorder of disinhibited REM sleep. The waking life of these individuals is frequently interrupted by full-blown, unpredictable episodes of REM. Patients report feelings of dreaminess and hallucinatory states when REM interrupts their conscious life. If cataplexy (the body paralysis that accompanies REM sleep) occurs alongside dreaminess and hallucinations, the individual may suddenly lose motor control and drop, paralyzed but conscious.

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