Over the last few years I have honed my skills in a particular creativity technique – to use my subconscious to generate ideas and solve problems.

How? By taking naps and hitting the snooze button.

This article is not about getting the right amount of sleep (although I’m a big fan of that too). This is about using sleep to engage in incubation. Incubation is a creativity technique that involves using your subconscious to grow and develop ideas.

I have solved multiple problems and generated many ideas through naps and snoozing. Here’s how.

As we begin to fall asleep or when we slowly come out of sleep our brain is in the first two stages of sleep, simply called Stage 1 and Stage 2. During this stage our brainwaves begin to slow down, but are marked by brief electrical bursts. Our neurons engage, fire, and make new connections meaning we can solve problems and come up with new ideas. With a bit of practice you can use this process to intentionally coax your brain to solve specific problems. Let’s first talk about naps.

Taking Naps

Is there a certain time of day where you feel more sluggish? For me, it is early afternoon between2-3pm. I get sluggish, sleepy, less productive, and my work pace slows down quite a bit. I used to fight it, but now I just take a nap. This isn’t just any old nap, it’s one where I intentionally solve problems and generate ideas.

Before I lay down on the couch, I turn off my phone ringer and set the timer for 25 minutes. I think briefly about a problem I am trying to solve. This might be how to redesign a workshop to be more engaging, how to customize a creativity experience for a client, or what to talk about on my next podcast episode. Then, I let myself drift off to sleep. In 25 minutes, the alarm goes off, I sit up with my new ideas, and I am energized and ready to go. It’s like magic.

You might be thinking, “But wait, I don’t have a couch in my office.” Don’t let that get in the way of a good nap. Try closing your office door and putting your head down on your desk. Or, park your car in the back corner of the lot and nap on a break. You might have to get creative about where to take your nap, but don’t create excuses to avoid a good problem solving nap. If you want to read more about the fascinating research on naps and our daily rhythms, check out When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Now, let’s talk about how to use the snooze button to generate new ideas.

Hitting Snooze

I know, I know you are not supposed to hit the snooze button. It is bad for your sleep patterns. Well, this type of snoozing will not interfere with your sleep, at least it hasn’t for me. I am serious about my sleep and need a full 8 hours for optimal performance. A few years ago, I discovered the power of using my subconscious mind in those waking moments to solve problems. I realized that after about seven hours and 45 minutes I tend to wake up just a bit. I do not open my eyes, but rather lay in bed and solve problems. I let my mind wander, yet in a focused way. Then, about 15 minutes later as the alarm went of I realized I was generating new ideas. Sometimes I hit the snooze button for another nine minutes of fun problem solving. At the next alarm I wake up ready to jump into my day. When I realized what was happening and the great benefit I was reaping, I got serious about getting good at it. Here is how you can guide your subconscious to solve problems and generate ideas.

  1. First, get a full night of sleep. If you are not getting a full night’s sleep on a regular basis, please make adjustments in your life. Sleep is the life blood of creativity. To learn more about the impacts of sleep on creativity, listen to The Deliberate Creative Podcast, episode 59.
  2. Before going to bed, think about what problem you want to focus on. Don’t think too deeply about it because that might keep you awake. Rather, consider it for one minute then let it go.
  3. In the morning as you wake, bring that same problem into your mind, but don’t consciously think about it. Let your subconscious do the work.
  4. When your alarm goes off hit snooze once, maybe twice, if you feel you need more problem solving time.
  5. Wake up and get to work!

Weekly Challenge

Try these two approaches this week and see what happens. Take a nap with intention to let your brain ruminate over a problem. Select a challenge before going to bed. Then, plan to hit the snooze button a couple of times. In the comments below share your results. I’d love to hear what happened and what problems you solved!

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