m about to drift off to sleep. I’m exhausted and looking forward to a night’s rest, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I have a brilliant idea or a stroke of insight and my entire night is ruined.
Has that ever happened to you? Because it has happened to me plenty and I’ve always wondered why!
I finally decided to figure out why this happens, for curiosities sake and came across this great article in the Scientific American.
In the simplest of terms, this happens because it is necessary for our brains to be in a relaxed state for us to come up with insights and unique ideas about something we are dealing with in our life.
Throughout the day, our brains are continuously stimulated and active, unable to focus completely on anything.
When we finally get away from all the activity, like when you’re in the shower or just getting to bed (damn you), our brains are in a relaxed state and your subconscious comes to the fore, giving rise to various ideas and insights you weren’t able to access throughout the day.
A more in depth explanation comes from Barry Gordon, professor of neurology and cognitive science at John Hopkins University School of Medicine:
We are aware of a tiny fraction of the thinking that goes on in our minds, and we can control only a tiny part of our conscious thoughts. The vast majority of our thinking efforts goes on subconsciously. Only one or two of these thoughts are likely to breach into consciousness at a time. Slips of the tongue and accidental actions offer glimpses of our unfiltered subconscious mental life… Although thoughts appear to “pop” into awareness before bedtime, their cognitive precursors have probably been simmering for a while. Once those preconscious thoughts gather sufficient strength, the full spotlight of consciousness beams down on them. The mind’s freewheeling friskiness is only partly under our control, so shutting our mind off before we sleep is not possible.
So there you have it, now we know why we have those moments of insight, at the most seemingly random times.
Learn more here.