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The Best Ideas Ever Inspired By Sleep

The Best Ideas Ever Inspired By Sleep


Einstein floors Frankenstein, Terminator, Beatles, and the Rolling Stones in vote for greatest idea while asleep.

We asked pollsters YouGov to get 4,453 Americans and Brits to pick their favorite from a dazzling short-list of 12 all-time great ideas either conceived during sleep and/or inspired by dreams. 

We commissioned the poll as our own small way of marking the 200th anniversary next month of Frankenstein, the Gothic novel first published in 1818 after the idea came to its teenage author Mary Shelley in a dream about a corpse brought back to life by electricity.

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So, is Frankenstein the greatest idea ever inspired by sleep? Far from it, according to the results of our poll. 

Frankenstein shared just eighth place in the poll with the classic Rolling Stones song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”.

Einstein’s theory of relativity comfortably topped the poll, ahead of the periodic table of elements in second place and the invention of the sewing machine in third. 

“Yesterday”, The Beatles song whose tune came to Paul McCartney in his sleep one night in 1964, polled highest of any idea from the arts rather than sciences, ranking fifth overall – just ahead of Terminator, the movie character which – like Frankenstein to Mary Shelley – first appeared to director James Cameron in a dream. 

The moral is that sleep is not just vital to your health but perhaps the single greatest source of creativity and new ideas. 

Here are the poll rankings in full:

    1. The theory of relativity, by Einstein
    2. The periodic table of chemical elements
    3. The invention of the sewing machine
    4. The model of the atom, conceived by physicist Neils Bohr
    5. Yesterday, the Beatles song by Paul McCartney
    6= Terminator, the movie(s) and movie character
    6= The principles of analytical geometry, devised by René Descartes
    8= Frankenstein, the novel by Mary Shelley
    8= I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, the Rolling Stones song by Keith Richards
    10= The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson
    10= Kubla Kahn, the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
    10= The discovery of the structure of the benzene molecule

    Did you know?

    Einstein’s journey to the theory of relativity reportedly began with a dream about a field of cows surrounded by an electric fence. But when he told the farmer who he met in the dream what he’d seen and the farmer’s account differed, it gave Einstein the key insight that the same event could look different from different perspectives.


    The periodic table of chemical elements, on the other hand, seems to have appeared fully formed to the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in his sleep on the night of February 17, 1869. “I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required,” he wrote. “Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper. Only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.”

    The tune for the Beatles song, Yesterday, came to Paul McCartney in his sleep one night in 1964.


    The movie character, The Terminator, first appeared to director James Cameron in a dream. 

    René Descartes, he 17th century French philosopher and mathematician, who devised the principles of analytic geometry, reputedly slept up to 12 hours a day.


    When she was dreaming  as a teenager, Mary Shelley conceived the idea for Frankenstein, the Gothic novel first published 200 years ago.


    Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, did not even have to write down the opening verse of the great Stones’ song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. After dreaming it one night, he woke up in the morning of May 7, 1965, to find that he had unwittingly committed it to a tape recorder during the night.


    “Sleep is the only source of invention”, felt Marcel Proust, the great French writer. Winston Churchill agreed that the best time and place to get ideas was when asleep.  

    The French poet, Saint-Pol-Roux, reputedly hung a sign on his bedroom door before sleep that read, “Le Poète Travaille” [“Poet at Work”]. John Steinbeck, the American author and Nobel laureate wrote, “A problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

    This kind of “intelligent information processing that inspires creativity and promotes problem-solving” is a distinct benefit of REM- [Rapid Eye-Movement] sleep and the act of dreaming, says Matthew Walker, the Berkeley University sleep scientist, in his acclaimed new book, “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams.”

    “Sleep seems to stimulate your mind to make non-obvious connections”, Walker has said. “It puts all the information from the day into a big biological theatre and forces the mind to speak to people at the back of the theatre, who you may not think you have any connection with. This is the basis of creativity – connecting ideas, events and memories that wouldn’t normally fit together.”

    REM-sleep, and the dreaming process associated with it, says Walker, is “informational alchemy”, from which have come some of the most revolutionary leaps forward in human progress." 

    Looking to generate some new ideas in your sleep?

    Check out our blog, Life-Hacks: 4 Ways To Come Up With Ideas In Your Sleep.       

    Life-Hacks: 4 Ways To Come Up With Ideas In Your Sleep

    Life-Hacks: 4 Ways To Come Up With Ideas In Your Sleep

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