History is peppered with tales of phenomenal ideas taking shape in sleeping minds; Paul McCartney said that he awoke with the tune of Yesterday in his head, and Robert Louis Stevenson said that the idea for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde came to him in a dream. But what exactly is going on in our minds while we sleep? Does slumber really prompt creative genius? And can the most uncreative of people receive flashes of inspiration once their head hits the pillow?
Scientists believe that the mind at night weaves together bits of information in innovative ways. Throughout the day your brain rarely gets a chance to stop and think. In a state of constant alertness, it responds to a stream of challenges, from writing a report for a work deadline to remembering where you left your car keys and figuring out what to buy for dinner.
Even when we are relaxing in front of the television, the brain is still beavering away, processing the information about the plot lines, or co-ordinating your arm movements every time you sip your wine. Believe or not, even watching Strictly Come Dancing requires brain power. Sleep is the only time when your brain gets to relax and mull over the thoughts of the day. This is when new ideas and ways of thinking start to emerge.
"Think of your brain like a web," says Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University.
"During the day the web is very tight, so you can only put information in a certain number of places. During sleep the web expands, and with the luxury of time, those bits of information can be put into lots of different places and make new associations."