As science overwhelmingly demonstrates, sleep plays a vital role in our decision-making, emotional intelligence, and cognitive function. It’s a vessel for our big ideas.

That’s why the Microsteps for improving sleep shared  aren’t just an investment in your well-being, they’re like kindling for creativity. In addition to processing and strengthening short- and long-term memory, sleep can transform them in a process linked to creativity, according to a Brazilian study, which found that during REM sleep neural processes not only strengthen connections between neurons but also reorganize them. We see this connection most prominently in the world of art, especially with dreams, which author and journalist Arthur Koestler described as “periods of incubation” that redirect our attention to “something not previously noted.” The list of great works inspired by dreams is as long as it is dazzling. “Let It Be” came to Paul McCartney in a dream he had about his mother during the time the Beatles were breaking up. Many of Salvador Dali’s surrealist paintings were the products of dreams; he described them as “hand-painted dream photographs.” In the realm of science and innovation, breakthroughs ranging from the periodic table of elements to Google can be credited to dreams.

Sleep-sparked breakthroughs are accessible not just to artists and inventors but to all of us. The self-doubts that limit us during the day are quieted during sleep, and our creativity can find expression without judgment. Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, summed it up this way: “Dreaming may be our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configurations of information: new ideas.”


Naturally, we associate sleep with the nighttime. But one mindset shift we can make that will improve our ability to sleep when nighttime comes around is to identify Microsteps we can take throughout the day.

When we devote small moments throughout the day to recharging, we create pockets of meaning and connection we may have been missing—without even knowing we were missing them. And it’s not just about shut-eye; it’s about enhancing the quality of every moment we’re awake.

“Over the course of the day, little stressors cumulatively have a pretty big impact on our resting physiological tension,” Simon Rego, chief psychologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, tells Thrive. He likens our daily doses of stress—getting the kids ready for school, rush hour traffic, work pressures, smartphone notifications—to a pot of water on the stove that reaches a boiling point by the end of the day.

So while sleep might be the last thing on our mind when we’re starting the day, we have an opportunity to set ourselves up for success from the moment we wake up. For example, getting exercise throughout the day helps—and it doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. University of Pennsylvania researchers showed that those who walked for exercise got better sleep and that, as lead author Michael Grandner put it, “these effects are even stronger for more purposeful activities, such as running and yoga, and even gardening and golf.” Small changes in the course of a busy day, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, are sneakily effective.

Many of us depend on caffeine to help us power through our days. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we know when to cut ourselves off, since too much caffeine hinders our ability to sleep at night. We should be aware of how caffeine affects us personally, but also know that caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours. Many experts recommend not consuming caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m.

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