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The value of sleep for creatives, by Emma Norton of Bring Your Own Laptop

There is an ongoing debate in our household about the value of sleep. My wife, a solid 8 hours a night lady, is forever ‘reminding’ me (a milder, more politically correct version of ‘nagging’) to get more sleep. I, on the other hand am certain that all I need to perform at my best is a good 5-6 hours. As long as I’m in bed by 1am, then I’m good to go at 6:30am. But it’s more than just feeling that 5-6 hours is enough sleep.

My problem is that I love to work in the quiet of the night when the whole world is asleep (the southern hemisphere world) and nobody can ‘get me’ or interrupt me with emails. Unless of course they too are up in the middle of the night working, which does occasionally happen. And there is something about that slight hint of exhaustion, fueled by a modest dose of caffeine that makes me excited and creative...for some bizarre reason...

so this way of living and working was all going just fine, until...

I'm actually quite convinced that any more than this is in fact too much sleep and that this inhibits my creativity

So this way of living and working was all going just fine until exactly 19 months ago when a little person entered my life and turned everything upside down. My son, as beautiful as he is has disrupted my life no end. I ‘m sure that he has some energy sapping super power which leaves my wife and I staring helplessly at the carnage that is our sitting room floor littered with toys and tupperware (his current preferred play things) at the end of each day.

...something about that slight hint of exhaustion, fueled by a modest dose of caffeine that makes me excited and creative...for some bizarre reason...

I find that I can no longer stay up creating until the early hours. When I try, I end up staring at the computer screen, producing nothing and feeling more tired then ever the following day. I think that the problem is that there are no more sleep ins. I previously banked up my sleep and cashed it in on the weekends. And this worked out just fine. But there are no more leisurely Saturday mornings these days. No more late Friday nights working feverishly on my latest web design or other creative project. Instead I’m up with the birds at ‘The Farm’ with my little man in tow by 7:00am

So what is it about sleep deprivation or insomnia that appears to aide my creativity

Charles Dickens is reported to have walked the streets of london at night when he couldn't sleep, drawing on the grim surroundings for inspiration

So what is it about sleep deprivation or insomnia that appears to aide my creativity? There’ve been many famous creative types who have claimed to be insomniac or have spoken about working manically for days on end with no or little sleep. Many who report that their best creative ideas come to them in the middle of the night. Charles Dickens for one, is reported to have walked the

So what is it about sleep deprivation or insomnia that appears to aide my creativity

streets of London at night when he couldn’t sleep, drawing on the grim surroundings for inspiration for the development of some of his tortured characters. Lady Gaga reports finding it difficult to sleep because she is always thinking of new music. And Van Gogh, of course, suffered notoriously from sleeplessness, the ideas for his artworks, always on his mind. And you’ve most likely heard the story of Paul McCartney waking from a deep sleep and instantly writing his hit ‘Yesterday’ as if it came to him in a dream.

So is insomia a sympton of the creative mind

So is insomnia a symptom of the creative mind? Or does insomnia or sleep deprivation create the perfect circumstances for creative thinking? Are creative types simply making use of all the extra spare time that they have when they have difficulty sleeping by continuing with their work? Is there a more scientific causal relationship between insomnia and creativity? Or, in fact, am I completely wrong in my ascertion that sleep deprivation is good for my creativity?

So do I really need to sleep?

So do I really need to sleep? So from my reading, I’ve figured out that sleep is necessary for the consolidation of everything that we have learned and experienced throughout the day. So apparently, in order to lay down memories of the basic experiences and interactions that we encounter each day, synaptic connections need to be laid down or strengthened. In this way, connections that are strengthened most frequently containing the most vital information for survival become very easily retrieved in the future ...(e.g your wife’s name.....very important)... So what has this all got to do with creativity? Because surely this is all about remembering routine facts and information rather than thinking creatively? Well, according to an article by Tanner Christensen in ‘Creative something.net from July 2013;

Does insomnia or sleep deprivation create the perfect circumstances for creative thinking?

‘It’s through connections in the brain that any ideas form. The more powerful connections draw attention and the broader connections instigate original thought’. He proceeds to explain that sleep is the ideal time for the consolidation process to take place while the brain and body are not utilising energy on other tasks and the brain is not taking in new information that needs to be sorted out. It allows the brain the time and space to sift through all of the ideas and

Are creative types simply making use of all the extra spare time that they have when they have difficulty sleeping by continuing with their work?

information floating around in the brain form earlier in the day. This is why people, like Paul McCartney from earlier, report experiences of waking in the night with a bright idea. So it seems that sleep is important for creativity, enabling my brain to rest, repair and strengthen ‘broader connections’ necessary for creative thought.

Furthermore, research by J. A. Horne at Loughbourough university found that sleep was essential for ‘divergent’ or creative thinking. In this study, subjects who had been deprived of sleep for 32 hours were presented with the creatyive thinking and their perofrmance compared with the control group who had slept as usual. The participants who had been sleep deprived performed less well on these tests of thinking flexibly, generating unusual solutions to problems and originality. So I guess the old adage to ‘sleep on it’ rings true afterall.

But what about my own personal experience, as lacking in scientific evidence as it may be, of finding that I do really work well when I’m not so exhuasted that I cannot function, but have just the right dose of tiredness late at night? An article on www. sleepdex.org entitled ‘Creativity and sleep’ states that there is no causal relationships between insomnia and creativity, however, it is possible that ‘insomnia could cause a general unrest in the mind that the creative person seeks to fill with product/art.’. But they conclude that even if it was possible to prove this, it would be certain that any ongoing sleep deprivation would hinder creative thinking rather than improve it.

I also found information on www.creativesomething.com in which the author explains that just at those beginning stages of tiredness the frontal cortex which is responsible for higher order thinking starts to lose some of it’s control and attention, becoming less judgemental about the information entering it and possibly allowing more divergent thoughts to creep in, therefore facilitating creativity. However, after a while, the whole brain loses energy effecting performance, creativity and productivity. So it seems that in order to get those initial ideas blooming, some mild fatigue may actually be useful, but in order to see the project through to completion, some sleep is certainly required.

So it seems that for me, for now, I have to accept that my productive creative hours have been halved by my little buddy...


 


 

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