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The Artists We Love Believe They Can

When we talk with the creatives in our Artist Series, we ask a series of questions about their dream lives including "do you dream?" "do you remember your dreams?" and "do you write down your dreams?" That’s because we believe sleep informs what we do when we’re awake. It provides the rest we need to create, and it can bring the dreams that become the focus of our creations. We’re always curious about the artists who inspire us and how they sleep, from their sleep rituals and bedroom environments to their dreams and how their dreams inform the art they create.

Does Everyone Dream?

Yes, everyone dreams.[i] We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. During that sleep, our brains are active, proceeding through stages of sleep that fall into two categories: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). There are three NREM stages: stage 1 is the lightest sleep right after you fall asleep; stage 2 is deeper; and stage 3 is deep sleep during which your body repairs injuries and reinforces your immune system. After that, you go into REM sleep, typically the shortest of the stages, in which brain activity appears similar to when you’re awake.[ii]

Contrary to what may have been an earlier view, “There is now a consensus that dreaming may occur throughout the night during both REM and non-REM sleep; however, disagreement persists over whether dreaming in these distinct phases can be said to be qualitatively different.”[iii]

Are Dreams Healthy?

They seem to be. "Dreaming is a normal part of healthy sleep. Good sleep has been connected to better cognitive function and emotional health, and studies have also linked dreams to effective thinking, memory, and emotional processing. In this way, many experts believe dreaming is either a reflection of or a contributor to quality sleep."[iv]

Can Dreams Really Be a Source of Creativity?

They just might be. A recent study showed “that dreaming of a topic during sleep onset is directly related to increased post-sleep creativity on that topic.”[v] To put it in simple terms, sleep onset, also called Stage 1 sleep, is the period between wakefulness and sleep. The study reports this period as “the site of scientific and artistic discoveries made while dreaming by the likes of Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali.” Both men are said to have caught their dreams in the moments after dozing off with a similar method. They would hold an object in their hand when they went to sleep. The object would drop from their hand when it relaxed in sleep, waking them to record any dreams.

To control dream content in order to show any role of specific dream content on post-sleep creativity, the study used a technique called targeted dream incubation (TDI) to guide the dreams of participants. The researchers then collected “dream reports” from participants after interrupting their sleep. A report on the study in Scientific American found it to be the best study to demonstrate “the importance of this early sleep state for creativity.”[vi]

How Have Dreams Inspired the Artists We Love?

Dreams have been the basis of inspiration for artists working in a variety of mediums. Whether it is singer/songwriter Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” or film director Christopher Nolan’s thriller “Inception,” great ideas and works of art have reportedly been inspired by dreams. Carolyn Gregoire in the HuffPost discusses these and other dream-inspired works of art.  [vii] Maybe our dreams hold inspiration the rest of us have yet to realize.

The artists in our Artist Series have realized their dreams in their companies and their works. Visual artist Jennifer Axinn-Weiss tells us that her "work is all about the symbolic language of dreams. This collaboration is the perfect synergy of imagination and form.” Entrepreneur and Creator of Adoratherapy perfumes Laura McCann has “a very active dream life, with vivid dreams and ‘sleep adventures.’” Playwright Anna Fox shares that she sometimes comes up with dialogue for her plays in her dreams.

How Can I Channel the Creativity of My Dreams?

Although “creative types” might have richer dreams that they tend to remember more, there are ways for the rest of us to benefit from our dreams. In an article that preceded the MIT study, one psychologist suggested “pre-bedtime priming—contemplating a problem you’d like to solve—increases the likelihood that sleep will bring some answers.”[viii] Additionally, “The best strategy for remembering dreams is keeping a journal next to your bed.”[ix] At Down Etc, we are big fans of bedtime routines so priming ourselves for creativity seems like a great addition, and we love the idea of writing down our dreams after we wake so we can see where they might guide us. 

We wish you a night of inspiring dreams.

-The Team at Down Etc

If you would like to read more, consider these articles:

6 Travel Tips for a Great Night's Sleep 

Am I Dreaming and Why?

Cover Photo by Ron Lach 


[i] https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/does-everyone-dream

[ii] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/12148-sleep-basics

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7377375/

[iv] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/dreams/how-do-dreams-affect-sleep

[v] https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/dreams-and-creativity/#faq-what-are-the-main-findings-of-this-study

[vi] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/heres-how-to-use-dreams-for-creative-inspiration/

[vii] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/famous-ideas-from-dreams_n_4276838?guccounter=2

[viii] https://time.com/4737596/sleep-brain-creativity/

[ix] https://time.com/4737596/sleep-brain-creativity/

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