Recently I read a National Geographic article titled, “The Secrets of Sleep.” The authors discussed many ideas related to sleep, including why we sleep and why we don’t or can’t sleep. It also laid out the stages of sleep and even put them on a graph showing the sleeping stages of a typical adult sleeper by following their brain waves throughout the night. The writers suggested that there are three stages of sleep. Stage 1 is light sleep when we may drift in and out of wakefulness. Stage 2 is deeper sleep when brainwaves slow, but there are also occasional bursts of brain activity. Stage 3 is deep sleep with very slow brain waves. In the midst of these stages is a condition or period called REM or Rapid Eye Movement. During REM sleep our brain is very active and almost all dreams take place during REM sleep.
After I read the article I became more conscious of my own sleeping habits and also periods of high creative thought during my sleeping. For example, the article described one of the possible purposes of sleep saying, “…memory consolidation may be one of the functions of sleep….the sleeping brain may weed out redundant or unnecessary synapses or connections. So the purpose of sleep may be to help us remember what’s important, by letting us forget what is not.”
In the nights that have followed since studying this article, I have found that while sleeping I go through periods of cycling through memories of the day. I think this happens during my periods of Stage 1 sleep. While this is happening, I sleep for a period, then in a state of semi-wakefulness I process some of the issues of the previous day and then fall back to sleep. This may happen several times over a period of an hour or two until things seem to be resolved, and then I finally go into a deeper sleep, probably Stage 3 sleep.
In the early hours of the morning as I am becoming more and more awake my mind seems clearer and some of my most creative thinking takes place . Frequently, I have found that there are enough good ideas that I try to write down the thoughts that have punctuated that period. Some of them have proven to be very helpful on current projects.
Through all of this, I am reminded of the pictures of Thomas Edison sleeping in the laboratory. Although his sleeping habits were unusual, his sleeping likely served a similar function of clearing out the weeds and setting up a more productive environment for creativity.