Sigmund Freud postulated that dreaming is a reflection of the unleashed id; it represents one’s deep sexual fantasies and frustrations implanted during childhood. But what happens when we fall asleep is usually much less dramatic; we dream about the problems of everyday life. Now scientists understand dreaming as an integral part of the creative process – it’s not just about the problems of everyday life, it’s about solving them.
In 2004, the neuroscientists Ullrich Wagner and Jan Born published a paper in Nature that examined the relationship between sleep and problem solving. In one experiment, they tasked participants with transforming a long list of number strings. The task required participants to apply a set of algorithms that would scare off most save a handful of math geeks. However, the researchers integrated an elegant shortcut that made the task easier. How many people, Wagner and Born asked, would catch it?
They found that only 20 percent of the participants were sharp enough to spot the shortcut even though most wrestled the task for several hours. The key part of the experiment was that Wagner and Born let some of the participants sleep between experimental trials. To their surprise, 59 percent of the participants in the sleep condition found the shortcut. The research team concludes that sleeping and dreaming “facilitates extraction of explicit knowledge and insightful behavior.”
So, Good night! Solve the problems, wake up and continue...