3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your Creativity

Does this situation sound familiar to you?

You need to brainstorm a new, creative idea for a presentation, project or report, or some other assignment.

But no matter how much you try you keep hitting a mental block.

The frustration of not being able to come up with something disheartens and stresses you. You’re not pleased with the quality of your work, and it’s affecting your confidence and productivity too.

What you probably didn’t know is that you’re likely failing to access your creativity because you’re not in the right brain state for it.

When the brain is highly alert and focused, it’s better suited to implement strategies and knowledge you already have.

On the other hand, brain science shows that you are most creative when you’re calm – and even a little sleepy.

By knowing exactly when your brain is the most creative, and how to access those states, you can unlock new, original ideas and solutions without the stress and self-doubt!

Table of Contents

1. Build Up Your Knowledge Base with Breaks

2. Learn When to Time Creative Work

3. Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule

3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your Creativity

1. Build Up Your Knowledge Base with Breaks

3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your CreativityFirst of all, what is creativity?

It’s a bit of a buzzword that plenty of employers use to highlight what they’re looking for in new hires.

But rather than tackling an abstract concept, understanding creativity helps you know how to unlock it.

Creativity is when your brain takes what you already know and shuffles it around, reorganizing information in novel ways.

Your brain is in an exploratory state when it’s creative. And it randomly connects the dots between what you already know to come up with something new.

It’s a bit like being able to invent a new recipe because you’re familiar with all the ingredients and cooking techniques!

So, the precursor to creativity is having a sound knowledge base. All that information is the base that your ideas and problem-solving emerge from.

And one of the ways you create the right sort of brain environment to do that is by taking more breaks!

Take More Brain-Friendly Breaks

3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your CreativityThis doesn’t mean spend several more hours on your social media or chat with your colleagues instead of working.

Brain-friendly breaks are deliberate and spaced between learning sessions of typically 20 to 25 minutes long.

Neuroscientists recommend this because your brain simply does not focus and retain information during long stretches of learning.

Your working memory, which is what you’re using when you’re learning something in the moment, is very short-term.

It can only hold a couple of items of information in a go. And if it doesn’t get the opportunity to store these into long-term memory, it loses the information.

Have you ever remembered someone’s phone number or birthday after hearing it just once?

You’d probably had to write it down or repeat it to yourself a couple of times first, right?

This is because of your working memory. It’s also the reason you might struggle to absorb information partway through a meeting or class, even if you were concentrating in the beginning.

The solution, as an extensive body of research finds, is simple – just take more breaks!

total recall learningmastering habits

memory skills made easy

A short 5-minute break after 25 minutes of learning allows your brain to wander in its default mode.

Since it’s not using all its resources heavily to focus on one thing, it gets to roam around. It takes a step back and looks at what you learned within the context of what you know.

And this helps work it into your long-term memory while also allowing you to come up with new ideas and answers to questions!

Without the breaks, you’re just piling on information and losing a lot of it in the process. And without the right knowledge base, you don’t have the resources you need for creative ideas!

2. Learn When to Time Creative Work

3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your CreativityYou might have wished at times for a way you could stay completely alert and focused all day.

That way, you could avoid morning grogginess and the midday crash where you just want to take a nap, right?

But that’s just not how your body works. And in fact, with the right knowledge of brain science, you can use this system to your advantage.

Say you’ve gone through a couple of these 20-minute learning sessions with 5-minute breaks in between.

But partway through the afternoon, your attention is waning. No matter what, you can’t seem to focus or absorb any information.

This is the perfect time to take a longer break – perhaps a 20-minute session of non-sleep deep rest or even a nap!

Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) is a meditative state where you’re not asleep, but not exactly fully awake.

It’s a state of rest where you are channeling your awareness from outside in. This can include doing mental scans of your body and focusing your awareness on different senses and parts of your physical being.

It helps unplug you from the stressors in your present environment, and you’ll find that you’re in a much calmer state of mind afterwards!

And remember what you read earlier – you’ll tend to be at your most creative when you’re calm, and even a little sleepy!

The state of alertness and focus you might have experienced earlier in the day is best for carrying out your creative strategies. A state of calm is best for coming up with them.

And of course, this differs from person to person.

You might be someone who wakes up feeling calm and relaxed and feels alert later in the day.

If that’s the case, you’re going to want to time your creative endeavors earlier in the day!

3. Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule

3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your CreativitySleep is as essential to your learning as wakefulness.

In fact, it’s while you’re asleep that your hippocampus and neocortex go through what you learned during the day and commit them to long-term memory.

They process the information and try to make sense of it through what you already know.

Researchers find that sleep not only allows existing ideas you learned to stick in long-term memory, but also allows your brain to synthesize new ideas.

As you sleep, your brain essentially pulls from all your knowledge in a randomized way. This allows it to come up with novel concepts and ideas.

As a result, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule not only allows for better memory, but also more creativity!

How to Maintain Your Sleep Schedule for Creativity

3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your CreativityCreativity has two dimensions.

First, there’s the state of calm in which you can come up with novel ideas and concepts.

And second is the state of alertness and focus where you can implement these ideas.

Here’s what neuroscience says about how you can optimize your sleep schedule for creativity.

To start your day off early, without the grogginess and reluctance to get out of bed, get some early morning sunlight.

When the retinal cells in your eyes detect this particular quality and strength of light, it sends out signals that stimulate the hormone cortisol.

These healthy pulses of cortisol are what “wake you up”, literally. They send out signals to your brain and body that it’s time to be awake and alert.

They also set the timer on your sleep hormone, melatonin, for some 12-14 hours later.

The great thing about this system is that once you do this a couple of times, the circuit between your eyes and circadian clock begins to anticipate the morning light.

Your brain and body create the right conditions for wakefulness and alertness earlier in the day because of that anticipation!

total recall learningmastering habits

memory skills made easy

Now, you might wake up in the perfect state of calm that lets you come up with those creative ideas.

Or you might be more alert earlier in the day post morning sunlight exposure, and calmer and sleepier later in the day.

Maintaining a good sleep schedule in this way helps you time your sessions for creativity and strategy implementation.

Rather than growing frustrated at yourself and slowing your productivity, you know exactly when you’re going to be most creative!

How to Avoid Sleep Disruption in the Evenings

3 Brain Facts About Accessing Your CreativityYou might be getting up early in the day and getting that morning sunlight, and still struggle to sleep at night.

And there’s usually one culprit responsible.

In the evening, if you’re exposed to bright light sources, and the blue light emitting from your devices, screens, LED light bulbs etc. it disrupts your sleep cycle.

Blue light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. Naturally occurring blue light and even artificial blue light during the day is great. However, it can be pretty damaging in the evenings.

Not only does it disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, it also suppresses your dopamine levels – the molecule responsible for motivation.

You might be waking up tired, groggy, unfocused, and demotivated to learn and work.

It’s really important, therefore, to reduce your exposure to extremely bright lights and blue light in the evenings.

Dr Andrew Huberman, a neurobiologist at Stanford University, stresses that bright light exposure between 10 pm and 4 am can disrupt sleep cycles.

So, be sure to dim your lights and cut down on blue light emitting sources in your environment after dark.

And here’s another tip – exposure to sunset can help reduce your sensitivity to light after dark!

Plus, when your eyes detect the specific quality and wavelength of light at sunset, it helps delay your sleep schedule. This ensures you don’t wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get to sleep!

And there you go – 3 brain facts about accessing your creativity!

Are you going to try out any of the tips in this article to unlock your own creativity? I’d love to hear from you!

Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, inclluding Total Recall Learning™. 

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

Related article