We know sleep helps us solve problems and live longer. Sometimes it even heralds a stroke of genius.
You know what visions I get in my dreams? Visions of falling off of buildings (and doing the full body spasm thing when I hit the ground). Some people, though, have the sort of dreams that change the world. Or at least result in Arnold Schwarzenegger films.
The Periodic Table
It's said that Dmitry Mendeleyev was on a three-day work bender when he finally gave in for a few minutes of shut eye. Instead of falling asleep for 17 hours like most sleep deprived people, Mendeleyev dreamt of an arrangement of elements that would change modern chemistry forever, then popped up about 20 minutes later to record it. "I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper ... Only in one place did a correction later seem necessary."
Paul McCartney was just 22 when he "woke up with a lovely tune in my head" and thought, "That's great, I wonder what that is?'" He got up and easily picked the tune out on the piano, but was convinced that it must have been something he heard years ago and subconsciously remembered. After further investigation revealed that it was a McCartney original, he jotted down some lyrics: "Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs." The real words came later, obviously.
Mary Shelley was hanging out with her husband (Percy Bysshe, of course), Lord Byron and some other literary notables when they decided to have a writing contest. Mary was stuck--until she went to bed for the night, and had what she called a "waking dream" of a "hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion." Thrilled that her writer's block was gone, Shelley decided that "What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow."
Jekyll and Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson had a similar problem: The stories just weren't coming. He knew he wanted to write about the dual life of a man, but had no idea how to go about it and was frustrated that no plot was presenting itself to him. Then he closed his eyes. "On the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterwards split in two, in which Hyde for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers."
Whether or not you're a fan of angsty blood-suckers and pouty werewolves, you have to admit that Stephenie Meyer is definitely doing okay for herself. And she has one particularly vivid dream to thank. "It was two people in kind of a little circular meadow with really bright sunlight, and one of them was a beautiful, sparkly boy, and one was just a girl who was human and normal, and they were having this conversation," she told Oprah in 2009. "The boy was a vampire, which is so bizarre that I'd be dreaming about vampires, and he was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time how much he wanted to kill her."
Yep, that's Twilight. Meyer wrote her dream down, she said, because it was so different from her everyday, stay-at-home-mom life that she wanted to hold on to it. "I just wanted to remember it so badly. That's why I started writing it down--not because I thought this would be a great story for a novel."