Sleep Science

Greatest Scientific Discoveries That Were Made in Dreams

An image of Danielle Mowbray
08 Jun 20173 min read

While many dreams are just plain weird, others show off the mind’s ability to problem solve while we are fast asleep. This has led to dreams that have changed the world by providing the breakthrough some of our finest scientists have needed to solve a problem.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity

Picture of Albert Einstein

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity came to him in a dream about cows. He dreamed he was walking through a farm when he came upon some cows by an electric fence. He then saw the cows jump at the same time as the fence gave them an electric shock. But a farmer, who had been standing at the other end of the field, saw them jump one by one, like a Mexican wave. Einstein realised their views of the same event had been different. This lead to the Theory of Relativity, the idea that events look different depending on where you’re standing because of the time it takes the light to reach your eyes.

The structure of benzene

The structure of benzene was discovered by August Kekulé in the late 18th Century after a dream about snakes. While many of us would associate snakes with a more sinister meaning, Kekulé realised that the snakes in his dream were a representation of benzene and their structure, which at that point in time was unlike anything else in chemistry.

Using insulin for diabetics

Arguably one of the most influential discoveries in medical history, Frederick Banting is the scientist who is credited with working out that insulin is effective in treating diabetes. He received the Nobel Prize in Medicine at just 32 years old and he’s even had a Google Doodle made for him! Banting dreamt about a diabetic dog and a surgical procedure that included tying up the pancreas. This led to a breakthrough relating to the disproportionate balance between sugar and insulin. Which led to another dream indicating how insulin could be used to treat diabetes. Millions of lives have been saved or revolutionised by this discovery.

The periodic table

Picture of Dmitri Mendeleev, inventor of the Periodic Table

If you’ve been to school, then you will almost certainly know all about the periodic table. Perhaps you even had to memorise it and cursed the person who invented it! Take a bow Dmitri Mendeleev. This revolutionary chemist had recognised a pattern in the elements and was convinced he was close to a breakthrough. It was only when he fell asleep that the breakthrough materialised and he saw the table of elements, perfectly formed. He wrote it down as soon as he woke up and, although there were some changes that were made later, the table as it is today is still pretty much the one that came to him in a dream.

These dreams that have shaped our understanding of the world show that sometimes ‘sleeping on it’ really is the best option.  However, not every scientific discovery throughout history has been unearthed quite so ethically! For more information on how and why we dream, read our post all about dreaming!

Or check out our post on the UK's strangest sleepwalking stories!