Monday, December 9, 2019

Accessing Greater Creativity Through Sleep And Dreams | Music Think Tank

Whether you’re a songwriter, guitarist in a rock band, sound technician, or music educator, there’s a high likelihood that you’re not exactly a morning person. Night owls are rampant within the music industry, especially among touring musicians who typically book gigs at nightclubs, bars, and theatres. Research indicates that this backward sleep-wake schedule can make it difficult to maintain relationships and balance obligations outside of the industry.


Further, if you’re missing out on sleep, you may be less happy than your well-rested counterparts. Getting a good night’s sleep is linked to general happiness and even fosters creative thinking. Sleep, therefore, may be an even more useful part of your songwriting arsenal than your favorite music apps.


Even busy musicians still have to sleep sometime, right? The good news is that restful sleep is more dependent on quality rather than quantity. What’s more, you can even use sleep as a tool to fuel greater creativity and cultivate happiness. Here’s how.

Sleep, Dreams, and Creativity

Sleeping and dreaming can strongly influence our composition and ideation processes, from writing lyrics to creating the melody, harmonization, and layered parts within a song. In fact, some of the world’s most famous songs were composed in part thanks to vivid dreams.


For instance, in 1964, legendary songwriter Paul McCartney woke up with a melody in his head and subsequently played it on his piano. That tune would evolve into The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” widely considered the most covered song in music history. McCartney’s experience is a prime example of the ways in which lucid dreams promote creativity. A lucid dream is one in which you’re aware that you’re dreaming, which offers you a small amount of creative control over what happens in the dream.


But how does this all happen? The underlying connection between dreams and creativity is complex and fascinating. It is widely understood that dreams occur in the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement, or REM, which was initially discovered in 1953 by physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman.


Thanks to Kleitman and his colleagues, we also now understand that there are five stages of sleep, and REM is the final stage. While the process itself remains elusive, dreams occur during the REM stage due to increased brain activity. If you want to experiment with writing and composing music based around your dreams, you must be completely in REM sleep, and then try to wake yourself up suddenly, perhaps using an alarm. Always keep a notebook on your nightstand and/or your preferred instrument close at hand in case inspiration strikes while you’re sleeping.

Harnessing the Creative Potential of Dreams

Interestingly, although it’s something that every human on the planet needs in abundance, sleep remains mysterious, scientifically speaking, and dreams even more so. What we do understand is that dreams can alter neural pathways in the brain, which may be the key to harnessing creativity and original songs from your dreams.


To that end, mental health professionals have started studying various ways to retrain brain function. The practice of neurocounseling seeks to mimic the effects of dreams by producing new neural pathways, chemically altering how the brain functions. Neurocounseling has shown promise in reducing symptoms of depression, increasing confidence, and improving memory.


Speaking of memory, sometimes that’s where our dreams are rooted. In fact, when McCartney dreamed the melody of “Yesterday,” he figured it was something he had heard before. He even went around for “weeks playing the chords of the song for people,” attempting to find the melody’s source, according to Medium.


While we can assume that McCartney was in basic REM sleep when he unwittingly composed “Yesterday,” other songwriters needed additional prodding. For example, Queen guitarist Brian May composed “The Prophet’s Song” while having fever dreams during a bout of hepatitis.


To induce a similar dreaming state without contracting a life-threatening infection, you could experiment with room temperatures that are higher than normal. But keep in mind that the end result could be superfluous: After all, “The Prophet’s Song” spans more than 8 minutes.

Strategic Napping Tips for Musicians

If your busy schedule leaves you little opportunity for a good night’s sleep, napping may help bridge the gap. However, it’s important to note that long naps may do more harm than good, often causing grogginess and reduced performance. For peak efficiency, medical professionals recommend a short nap duration of between 10 and 20 minutes.


If you plan to utilize strategic napping to help jumpstart your creativity, be mindful of your surroundings and personal needs. Make sure your chosen napping spot is cozy and dark but not so dark you sleep too long to interrupt your natural sleep/wake patterns. If you have a vision impairment, you may want to invest in contact lenses that are compatible with sleeping. Either way, don’t worry too much if you fall asleep with your contacts in — Just make sure to remove them as soon as you wake up.


To get yourself in the mood to nap, you may be tempted to put on some of your favorite peaceful and/or ambient tunes. But a sleep soundtrack is the wrong move when you’re trying to capture a song from your dreams. Instead, opt for a silent room or white noise. That way, a secondhand tune or melody won’t creep into your brain or otherwise disrupt the creative process.

Final Thoughts

In the end, sleep and dreams may help fuel your creativity, allowing you to compose music more effectively. Whether you’re an early riser, someone who sleeps in shifts, or a performer who works late into the night, sleep likely makes you happy. You can harness that happiness and even access creativity by prioritizing REM sleep, no matter if your sleep source is a full night of rest or periodic naps.


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