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Hypnagogia: The State Between Sleep & Wakefulness Could Unblock Your Creative Potential

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The Facts:Hypnagogia is a state of consciousness characterized by dream-like visions and strange or abnormal occurrences. Artists have been using this state for centuries to tap into a creative field.

Reflect On:If this interests you, keep a notebook beside your bed, when you're in this state, usually early morning, write down everything you see, felt or experienced. This may provide insight into yourself.

The two basic states of consciousness we are all familiar with our sleep and wakefulness, but what about that which exists in between those states? Hypnagogia is another state of consciousness that is characterized by dream-like visions and strange or abnormal occurrences. Artists have been using this state for centuries to tap into a creative field, from which some of their most creative ideas emerge.

Take surrealist artist Salvador Dali for example, he described hypnagogia as “the slumber with a key,” using this state of consciousness as the inspiration behind many of his imaginative paintings.

“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,” Dali wrote in the book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.

The inspiration behind Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley from a “waking dream” that occurred early in the morning. She said, “I saw with eyes shut, but acute mental vision.”

Dream researcher Michelle Carr explained in a blog from Psychology Today that during this state the mind is “fluid and hypersensitive,” and often visions occur that can “express layers of memories and sensations.”

Hypnagogia is similar to REM sleep, the state at which you are in the deepest slumber, your mind is cycling through many thoughts, ideas, memories and emotions making connections behind various concepts. Unlike REM however, during hypnagogia you are partially awake and thus conscious enough to be aware of exactly what’s going on, what you’re seeing and how you are feeling.

Is This Related To Sleep Paralysis?

If you’ve experienced this before you may know that this is a state where you feel fully awake, but are unable to actually wake up. Many people see very haunting imagery or darkness and try to wake themselves up with no luck. What if those images were trying to show you something that you have been avoiding and this state of being was actually your brain trying to assist you with facing your own darkness? Just a thought, but you never know.

The term hypnagogia comes from the Greek words for “sleep” and “guide,” which suggest the period before or after being led into slumber or coming out of it. During this state, which is brief, lasting only a few minutes your being is essentially suspended between two states of consciousness and you experience some elements of sleep combined with some aspects of wakefulness.

“You wind up in the state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, and you experience some phenomena of sleep while you are still able to be awake and remember them,” Dr. Milena Pavlova, a neurologist studying sleep and circadian disorder at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told The Huffington Post.

So What Exactly Is Happening In The Brain?

During hypnagogia, scientists have been able to observe the presence of both alpha brain waves — the main brainwave mode when we are awake and relaxed, perhaps daydreaming or meditating and theta brain waves, these are associated with restorative sleep. Generally, these brain waves happen individually, but it could be the combination of them both that allows for these unusual visions.

This state is perhaps the best of both worlds as your mind is going freely without any effort or active thought, but you are conscious just enough to be aware of what’s happening and remember what you may be seeing or feeling.

“Typically, there is a lot of visual imagery,” Deirdre Barrett, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told ScienceLine. ”Sometimes static images, sometimes short-moving segments and occasionally longer narratives more like REM sleep dreams. Sounds also accompany this state sometimes.”

“Hypnagogia is the shortest path for communication from our subconscious,” Sirley Marques Bonham, a consciousness researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, told ScienceLine. “Your subconscious mind might send you solutions through imagery or other sensations.”

How To Harness This Creative Potential?

Next time you find yourself in this state of being, simply observe what you are seeing and how you are feeling. Don’t try to change it, or elaborate on it, just be with it. Once you are fully awake write down what you saw and whatever else you may have experienced. This could very well be the creative inspiration you need to tackle an upcoming project. It may also hold some powerful clues for things that you have not yet dealt with. You may enjoy trying to paint or draw the visuals you saw or describe in writing the sensations that were felt. Play with it and be open to whatever comes up!

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