Napping for Creativity

Can a nap that only lasts a few seconds stimulate creativity ?

Both Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali used a technique that might prove it true.

Edison steel ball

Closeup of Edison Statue


Thomas Edison 1847-1931

There is a statue of Thomas Edison in Fort Myers, Florida that shows him with a steel ball in his left hand. It depicts a habit he used to enter a certain state of consciousness.

The practice is sometimes credited to Capuchin monks, as far back as the 16th century.

When confronted with a very difficult problem, he would catnap in the chair in his office. He placed metal pans beside his chair and held a steel ball in each hand. As he fell asleep, his hands relaxed, dropping the steel balls in the pans. Awakened, he immediately recorded any insights gained during the period between wakefulness and sleep.

Eccentric artist Salvador Dali revealed that one of the secrets to becoming a great painter was this same practice, which he called “slumber with a key,” an afternoon siesta designed to last less than a single second.

Riwkin NEG 002

Salvador Dali 1904-1989

Dali would sit upright in a chair with his arms resting on the armrests, wrists dangling over the edge.

He held a heavy metal key between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, placing an upside-down plate on the floor directly below the key. The instant Dali dozed off, the key would slip through his fingers, clang the plate, and awaken him from his micro nap.

In that moment, Dali observed, one walked “in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire that separates sleep from waking.”

The artist recommended this practice to anyone who worked with their mind, believing that the tiny nap revived one’s whole being, leaving you  invigorated and inspired for an afternoon of creative labor.

The phenomenon is referred to as hypnagogia, considered a variation of lucid dreaming.

Going now to look for my car keys…wish me luck !


This entry was posted in Art, Education, Inspiration, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Napping for Creativity

  1. melaroundatl says:

    Reblogged this on Script Anubis.

  2. gh0stpupp3t says:

    Van, that is all good but I sleep like the dead.

  3. LaVagabonde says:

    Let us know if it works! My husband told me about this technique a long time ago. I haven’t made an effort to try it, but it has happened on its own. However, I get the best flashes of creativity at night, just before I fall asleep. Paper and pen is always on the bedside table.

    • For me, it’s always when I first wake up..I use the pen and paper technique…or I run to the laptop and record the thought. (it keeps me from turning on a light and waking up the Mr. ) I drift off in front of the tv, during a movie, etc..but for 10 minutes or so…never tried this one. I’ll keep you posted. ☺

  4. Interesting…but kind of jarring. Are you really going to try it? Let us know how it goes. I get my best creative dreams in the early morning as I’m starting to wake up – slowly and without crashing metal balls on plates! Ha ha.

    • Me too on the early a.m…the problem is it often happens if I wake up too soon…like 3-4 am, and I feel compelled to write, then can’t get back to sleep. But I nap often..not like this, for much longer intervals. I’ll let you know, Diana. ☺

  5. How fascinating. I knew neither anecdote about those famous brains. I suffer from insomnia and can only ever nap when I am very unwell. That must be the only reason why I am not a genius then.

    • That said, when I was writing my thesis for my undergraduate degree, I was struggling with one of the central threads to bind all my arguments together into something more cohesive. I was not sleeping well at all at that time but on one night I slept heavily and dreamed that I found a book in the library and read it. The book was the thread that I needed. When I woke, I immediately wrote it all down (I always keep a notepad and pen by the bed) and that helped me finish my thesis.

    • ha…love it, Laura. ☺( the genius observation…not the insomnia, that ‘s awful )

  6. C.E.Robinson says:

    Van, very interesting post. Who knew! Does nodding off at the computer with a sudden wake-up when head hits the keyboard the same thing? Still waiting for that walk in a genius place! Christine

    • I hear you, Christine ! I’m not sure…maybe ? Did you hit the keyboard and then get inspired ??? I’ve nodded off a lot in my life. I’ll have to pay closer attention now. ☺

  7. Hmm… they told me my new meditation practice would lead to increased creativity. So far it’s only lead to increased naps. But with this new information, maybe there’s still hope!

  8. I’d probably end up startled and give myself a heart attack.

  9. I’ve never heard of that Van, how interesting. Let us know what you come up with if you try it! ❤
    Diana xo

  10. Maria says:

    I have never heard about this, but it intrigued me deeply! must try it when house goes back to normal again in mid-august. thank you for sharing ❤

  11. lbeth1950 says:

    I do my best writing wh I wake up at night. Love this. Thanks

  12. lbeth1950 says:

    Reblogged this on Nutsrok and commented:
    Reblog from Vanbytheriver

  13. I’m not a ‘nodding off’ kind of person. When I have nodded off and been woken up I seem to become Grumpy from Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs. I’m most certainly a morning person after having my eight hours sleep. I guess we are all different?

  14. markbialczak says:

    This is very illuminating, Van. It makes me feel better about my short drifts, because I do come back strong. Truly! Now I have to shorten them from minutes to seconds, it seems. Lucid dreaming. When my dear wife Karen says I’m snoring in my recliner, that answer will now replace “I’m watching the show with my eyes closed.”

  15. Shrewed Up says:

    Hey Van: I’ve nominated you for The Blogger Recognition Award. Check the link for details:

  16. megdekorne says:

    Van , you are so delightful ! I want to try this too ! I’m all about lucid dreaming ! Hugs and more hugs , megxxx

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