How Memory Replay in Sleep Boosts Creative Problem-Solving

Trends Cogn Sci. 2018 Jun;22(6):491-503. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.03.009.


Creative thought relies on the reorganisation of existing knowledge. Sleep is known to be important for creative thinking, but there is a debate about which sleep stage is most relevant, and why. We address this issue by proposing that rapid eye movement sleep, or 'REM', and non-REM sleep facilitate creativity in different ways. Memory replay mechanisms in non-REM can abstract rules from corpuses of learned information, while replay in REM may promote novel associations. We propose that the iterative interleaving of REM and non-REM across a night boosts the formation of complex knowledge frameworks, and allows these frameworks to be restructured, thus facilitating creative thought. We outline a hypothetical computational model which will allow explicit testing of these hypotheses.

Keywords: consolidation; creativity; memory; reactivation; replay; sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Creativity*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology*