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As is the case with many theories, the Theory of Hangover-Induced Neurosuperiority [THIN] has its detractors. Yet years of experimenting have yielded facts that strongly support my central hypothesis: namely that the hungover brain is able to make creative leaps that the nonhungover brain is incapable of making.
The sheer number of THIN naysayers was initially discouraging. My theory gained traction, however, when Reader art director Paul John Higgins (who is acutely aware of my THIN obsession) brought to my attention a post on Wired’s Frontal Cortex science blog titled “Why Being Sleepy and Drunk Are Great for Creativity.” The post describes two studies that link sleepiness, drunkenness—and even brain damage—to higher-level thinking.
Neither the post nor the studies made the leap that a hangover might produce the same positive effect. However, it stands to reason that because the hangover is the ultimate combination of sleepiness, drunkenness, and brain damage, it very well could create an unprecedented climate for creativity.
This was a major THIN breakthrough. Consider the following passage from the Wired post. If you were to substitute “brain damage” with “hangover,” you would find a passage that handily describes the primary premise of THIN:
[T]he creative upside of brain damage—the unexpected benefits of not being able to focus—does reveal something important about the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain. We are more likely to find the answer because we have less control over where we look.
To be fair, not every hangover makes you smarter. There are several varieties that have quite the opposite effect. But by isolating several variables in self-conducted THIN studies, I believe I have found a way to manipulate prior-day drinking to produce the kind of hangover conducive to the most profound creativity bursts.
Here are the steps I’ve found most beneficial:
1. Slow, steady drinking. This should be performed over the course of six or more hours. Hydrate between drinks. No shots. (OK, maybe one. Two, max.)
2. No crashing. Stay up for at least one hour, preferably two, after your last drink.
3. Refrain from oversleeping. That will produce grogginess, not sleepiness (which, as the first study cited in the Wired post found, is good for creativity).
4. Seek isolation. While hungover, confine yourself to a small space (a home office, hotel room, or quiet cubicle; no jail cells) with minimal distractions and ample reading material, along with a notepad and sharpened no. 2 pencils. NOTE: If you insist upon replacing notepad and pencils with a computer, NO INTERNET CONNECTION.
The second of two studies cited in the post—conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago and focusing on the creativity afforded by drunkenness—found that “alcohol made subjects nearly 30 percent more likely to find the unexpected solution.”
Anecdotal evidence I’ve collected suggests that a hangover could increase that likelihood to 50 percent or more.
The post goes on to state, in reference to the UIC study, that “the explanation for this effect returns us to the benefits of not being able to pay attention."
This brings me to a whole new theory—one supported by fieldwork conducted with my husband, who professes to suffer from both brain damage and a general inability to pay attention. Inexplicably (or so I thought), he is at least 30 percent more likely than attention-paying, non-brain-damaged subjects to “find the unexpected solution.”
Coincidence? I think not.