‘Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away …’
Paul McCartney wrote this song over 50 years ago and according to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the most covered song in history.
Brainwave activity was part of this creative process.
The transitional stage between sleep and wakefulness is renowned for being the time to access creativity. You’ve probably experienced this for yourself – waking up with vivid dreams in your mind, and unless you write them down, they’re lost very quickly.
So what’s happening here?
When you are asleep, your brainwave activity has slowed right down to 3 cycles per second or less. Your brain produces tiny electrical frequencies as your thoughts travel along the nerve cells or neurons of your brain.
This activity happens in waves and can be measured by an EEG (electro-encephalograph) machine. So the slowest frequency, known as ‘Delta’ brainwave activity, is occurring when you sleep.
The transitional time between sleep and waking up, or wakefulness and asleep is ‘Theta’ brainwave activity, measured as 4 to 7 cycles per second.
Thomas Edison, the renowned inventor, accessed this creative window of opportunity for his scientific ideas.
He would sit in a rocking chair, holding a small ball in one hand with a notebook nearby. He would have a question in mind and as he relaxed and began to doze off, he’d drop the ball. This startled him awake and he would jot down any ideas and thoughts that emerged at this point.
He held a teaspoon in his hand and placed a metal tray on the floor, and as he began falling asleep, the spoon clattered onto the tray, startling him awake. He then sketched some of the highly creative images that sprang to mind at this transitional stage of sleeping/waking.
In fact, musicians, painters, writers and designers – anyone doing creative work, has higher than average ‘Theta’ brainwave activity.
Do they reach this more relaxed, creative state because they know they need to in order to be creative, or have their brains become accustomed to working like this? Who knows!
But if you want to find solutions to problems that are lateral and unique – your creative answers won’t happen until you give your brain a break and slow down!
Beta brainwave activity will give you convergent, sequential answers but genius emerges in those ‘eureka’ moments of Alpha or Theta brainwave activity.
How is mindfulness meditation and brainwave activity linked?
When you stop and meditate on your breath for 5 or 10 minutes, not only does your pulse-rate slow down but your brainwaves do too.
Your brainwave activity is flowing at its fastest when you’re problem-solving, thinking logical, convergent thoughts, on auto-pilot or generally going about your day.
This is between 13 and 25 cycles per second, known as ‘Beta’ brainwave activity. Of course, stopping to rest and relax also helps. In either instance, you have to be prepared to relinquish all your other activities and distractions!
Beta – 13-25 cycles
Alpha – 8-12 cycles
Theta – 4-7 cycles
Delta – Sleep
When you stop to meditate, your brainwaves slow down and you become more relaxed. Your brainwave activity is known as ‘Alpha’ when it slows down to 8 to 12 cycles per second, and ‘Theta’ at 4 to 7 cycles per second. This is a state of relaxed alertness. You can see by the number of cycles that this is not sleep!
It allows for more divergent thinking to happen. You’ve probably realised that your best ideas and resolutions to problems don’t occur when you are busy and stressed, but when you’re relaxed.
Other famous names influenced in this way
In fact, Mozart wrote in letters and diaries, that he knew his best musical ideas came to him when he was relaxing – travelling alone in his carriage or walking quietly after a good meal.
In later years of his life, the physicist Isaac Newton, liked to recall how his insight into gravity came about as he was relaxing in his mother’s back garden.
As he gazed at an apple tree, he saw an apple fall. In that split second, he asked himself the pivotal question – why did it fall downwards and not upwards or sideways? This lateral thinking came about because of his relaxed ‘Alpha’ brain activity.
So any time you stop and relax, whether it’s to meditate or simply relax – don’t underestimate the power and creativity of being still! And who knows, you could join the ranks of McCartney, Edison, Dali and Mozart!
Sarah McKay talks about the power of naps and mentions some of our famous inspirers in her TED talk here
Have you had some brilliant ideas after you’ve taken a break for relaxation or meditation? Tell us below!
De-stress tips to slow your brainwaves down here at Pinterest.