Creativity and Narcolepsy: Is There a Connection?

There are many areas of interest within the field of sleep disorders research. One such topic is creativity and its potential relationship with narcolepsy.

In the past, it has been thought that REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and lucid dreaming (being aware that you are dreaming while dreaming) may play a role in creativity. During REM sleep, it is possible for people to remember their dreams better and to have dreams that are more complex.

Both of these features may increase creativity. REM sleep may allow connections to form between thoughts and memories, leading to creative problem solving or ideas.

Why might narcolepsy and creativity be connected?

People with narcolepsy fall directly into REM sleep. They are also more likely to have lucid dreams. Experts have wondered if this could play a role in their creativity levels. Although a short trip into REM sleep may not lead to a breakthrough discovery, it may be possible that years of increased REM sleep and lucid dreaming may lead to greater creativity in those with the condition.

How has this been studied?

One 2019 study tried to better understand this relationship. They gave creativity-measuring questionnaires to 185 people with narcolepsy and 126 without. The study took place in Italy and France, and participants took the questionnaires on their own. One questionnaire was called the Test of Creative Profile and the other was the Creativity Achievement Questionnaire. The Test of Creative Profile evaluated 3 types of creativity, focused in areas of innovation, imagination, and research. The Creativity Achievement Questionnaire asked about accomplishments in 10 different domains of creativity, including visual arts, music, dance, culinary arts, humor, and more.

Additionally, 30 participants with narcolepsy and 30 without were given a series of in-person tests over 2 hours. These were part of the Evaluation of Potential Creativity test series and evaluated different ways of problem-solving and thinking. The results of the self-administered questionnaires and the in-person tests were compared to determine if there were any differences in creativity or creative potential between the groups.

What were the results?

Ultimately, the researchers found that those with narcolepsy scored higher on both creativity questionnaires. They also scored higher on the in-person tests of creativity. When broken down by symptom, almost all symptoms of narcolepsy were associated with higher creativity scores as well.

The only symptom that was not associated with better creative performance was cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness or paralysis). It is unclear why this particular symptom may be unique, however, the researchers suggest creativity may be negatively impacted by medications used to treat cataplexy.

Putting it all together

Overall, people with narcolepsy had higher creativity levels and a greater creative potential than their non-narcoleptic counterparts. It would make sense that people with narcolepsy may be more tired due to sleep dysfunction, and this might block creativity. However, this does not seem to be the case. If anything, it may be that people with narcolepsy spend a larger amount of time in REM sleep or lucid dreaming—both of which may increase creativity.

Wandering thoughts and new mental connections that can be formed during these times may lead to innovation and imagination. This news is exciting, as it highlights a potential advantage of narcolepsy. Narcolepsy can impact quality of life in various ways, many of which can be negative. However, recognizing untapped creative potential may be a not-so-obvious benefit that could be fulfilling for many.1

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