Described as America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, used a very peculiar napping technique.
Whenever he wanted new ideas or when he wanted a solution for a problem, he would nap sitting up in a chair, with his arms draped over the sides and a steel ball in each hand.
On the floor on either side of the chair was a metal pan.
If he fell too deeply asleep, the balls would fall with a clatter, awakening him in time for him to rescue any useful thought before it flashed back into the cognitive vapor.
He had noticed that insights and brainstorms often occur at the edges of sleep. But those insights can be fleeting, lost forever if the sleep that allowed them to exist in the first place overtakes you before you can wake up and write them down.
Similarly, Salvador Dali, a famous Spanish surrealist artist renowned for his technical skill, precise draftsmanship and the striking and bizarre images in his work, used a similar technique as Edison.
Instead of ball bearings, Dali would rest in his favorite chair, dangling a large key pinched between his thumb and forefinger above a plate sitting on the floor.
As unconsciousness swept over him, he would drop the key onto the plate and the resulting noise would snap him back to waking consciousness.
Dali said, the most characteristic slumber, the one most appropriate to the exercise of the art of painting… is the slumber which I call ‘the slumber with a key,’ … you must resolve the problem of ‘sleeping without sleeping,’ which is the essence of the dialectics of the dream, since it is a repose which walks in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire which separates sleeping from waking.”
What is Hypnagogic State?
Edison and Dali were utilizing what is called “Hypnagogia”, which is the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep.
Mental phenomena that may occur in this state include hallucinations, lucid thought, lucid dreaming, and sleep paralysis.
In hypnagogia we get the benefit of a sort of emotional and cognitive wandering. This wandering can be gently guided, as Edison and Dali did, or left open to go where it wants to go.
Guided wandering has the benefit of keeping a topic of our interest in mind so we can observe it from new angles to learn new things.
Hypnagogia has been a gateway to creativity and productivity. Apart from Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali, creative icons like, Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Edgar Allen Poe, John Kennedy, Nikola Tesla, Aristotle and Isaac Newton have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity.
How to harness your hypnagogic potential?
- First, decide why you want to go into the hypnagogic state.
- If it is a new idea or a solution for a problem that you are looking for, keep the topic of your interest in mind.
- If it is to experience hallucinations or lucid dreaming, skip the above step.
- Find a quite place where you will not be disturbed and where you can drift to sleep without any danger.
- Sit up comfortably and straight, to make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Open the app click on “Start” and hold the phone such that when you drift to sleep, it can slide down safely, or such that when you sleep, your finger can slide away from the button.
- Keep a notebook handy to write down your ideas when they flash into your mind.
- Now, relax your body and mind and drift to sleep.
- If you go out of the hypnagogic state towards sleep, the alarm and the phone vibration will go on and you will wake up.
Take notes immediately as it’s likely that any inspiration you gather from the hypnagogic state will fade pretty quickly. So you should have a pen and notebook, or voice recorder right by your side, before your ideas disappear.