We all know that feeling: you know you’re about to drift off to sleep, but aren’t quite there yet. It’s as if you have one foot in waking, conscious thought and the other stepping into the world of dreams and nightmares.
Scientists call this “in between” stage of sleep hypnagogia, and artists, writers and other creative people have been drawing inspiration from this state of consciousness for centuries.
During this state, the mind is “fluid and hyperassociative,” giving rise to images that can “express layers of memories and sensations,” dream researcher Michelle Carr explained in a Psychology Today blog.
Or, as Neurologist Dr. Milena Pavlova describes it: [During hypnagogia] you experience some phenomena of sleep while you are still able to be awake and remember them.”
It’s an interesting–albeit complex–component of consciousness, and scientists are only just starting to understand it.
An article on Huffington Post asks, “What’s going on in the brain to create this trippy state of consciousness? Scientists have observed the presence of both alpha brain waves–which are the dominant brain wave mode when we are conscious but relaxed, for instance when daydreaming or meditating–and theta brain waves, which are associated with restorative sleep, during hypnagogia. Typically, these brain waves occur only separately, and it may be the unique combination that gives rise to unusual visions and sensations.”
So, we know that all people experience this transitional period of consciousness and often encounter vivid, unusual sensations and visions…and?
And, it turns out, some of the most creative minds of in history have used hypnagogia and its unique, free flow of ideas to create their best works. Prominent Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali frequently found inspiration in his subconscious, saying: “You must resolve the problem of ‘sleeping without sleeping,’ which is the essence of the dialectics of the dream, since it is a repose which walks in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire which separates sleeping from waking,” Dali wrote in the book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.
The famous Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley also originated during a nightmarish period of hypnagogia, which she described as a “waking dream” in the wee hours of the morning, writing, “I saw with eyes shut, but acute mental vision.”
Take a cue from these famous figures and keep a pen and paper close by when you start drifting off toward sleep–you never know when inspiration will strike!