The Importance of Sleep for the Creative Soul (and Brain)

While creative people are more likely to find originality and new connections to old ideas in their sleep, they’re also less likely to sleep well. A 2017 study in Science Daily found that the higher a level of creativity in a participant, the lower quality of sleep they got during the study. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily a link between creativity and insomnia.

Creative people are more likely to sleep poorly. Someone who’s gone without sleep is also less likely to have peak higher-order brain functions, though. That would make it harder for them to be creative. Here are some ways that you as an artist are might be inhibiting your own creativity, and harming your sleep.

More than 35 percent of Americans do not get the recommended 8 hours of sleep every night, according to the CDC. Creative people are likely to be in that percentage.

The more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that you get, the more creative you tend to be. UC San Diego scientists found that participants of their study scored 40 percent better on a creativity test after getting some REM sleep.

It seems like one key to creativity is REM sleep, so resting may help you be more creative in your workspace.

Why does REM sleep enable creativity? According to a study from the University of Rome, while you are awake or in non-REM sleep, information travels from the left, logical, hemisphere of your brain to the creative, intuitive right hemisphere. When you’re in REM sleep, there is no “preferred direction” for information to travel. Your creative right brain can send more information to the logical side of your brain.

It turns out that “sleeping on it” is actually really good for fixing creative problems, as the rest time acts as an incubation period and allows your mind to think about it while focusing on other things. In 1993, a Harvard study found that when participants asked themselves a question before bed, half of them dreamed about the question, and a quarter of them found the solution they needed.

There’s also a positive correlation between paying attention to dreams and your creativity – keeping a dream diary might be useful for making sure you remember those plot bunnies or artistic visions the next day.

The loss of a full night of sleep makes you more distractible, and less likely to be able to tell the difference between relevant and irrelevant things in your vision.

Studies have found that the energy you get from naps tends to be helpful to let you get things done, so these might be worth a shot if you’re struggling to finish a project.

The one thing that’s consistent in all of these studies is the importance of a good night’s sleep, which requires a healthy sleep environment. Make sure that your mattress matches your sleep position. Back sleepers may prefer a memory foam mattress that allows them to sink a bit for proper spinal alignment, but stomach sleepers might want a firmer option. It would also be helpful to avoid caffeine and alcohol near bedtime, as both tend to scramble your circadian rhythm. Make sure that your workspace is separate from your bedroom, no matter how tempting it can be to work from bed.

Improving your sleep quality may be the boost you need to get the creative juices flowing.

2 Responses

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