The Creativity and Sleep Connection

June 08, 2019

Woman sleeping in bed
Linsey Knerl

Creative block is common in all professions – not just the artsy ones — and there's been a recent and surprising interest in one aspect of daily life that may be impacting your muse more than anyone realized. If you're nearing a deadline and just can't push through a mental wall, you simply could need to get some rest. We know that a lack of sleep can lead to heart disease, depression and weight gain, but the pitfalls of less rest can also be expressive.

Could your creativity and sleep habits be closely connected? Medical and human resources professionals think so. Here's why it should matter to anyone wanting to feel inspired in their profession, whether you're crunching numbers or sculpting the next "The Thinker."

How Creativity and Sleep Connect

There have been numerous studies conducted to try to understand how rest and productivity are related. Some scientists have taken this interest one step further to look for how creativity, specifically, can be improved with more, or better, sleep. One study revealed that sleeping directly after learning a new task or skill can assist your brain in "mentally restructuring" the new information, which can lead to inspired approaches to this subject matter in the future.

Another discovery has suggested that phases of sleep have just as much influence on the creative brain as timing or sleep. A Cardiff University project has explored further how each phase of sleep uniquely contributes to breakthroughs and creative "aha" moments. The researchers argue that slow wave and REM sleep both have a role to play in the creation of new ideas. They have discovered that non-REM sleep "extracts concepts," while REM sleep "connects them."

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

If sleep essential for keeping new ideas flowing, does that mean more sleep is better? Can we see our most frustrating problems solved by simply getting a bit more shut-eye? Traditional wisdom commonly touts "8 hours of sleep" as the magic bullet for feeling refreshed and rested, as well as giving our brain and bodies time to rejuvenate. Unfortunately, a recent Gallup poll reveals the average sleep session is closer to 6.8 hours, and many people we encounter each day cite lack of sleep as a major contributor to their bad moods or lack of energy.

The CDC's recommended sleep guidelines show that how much you sleep varies by age. There are also other factors to consider; pregnancy, illness, a physically demanding career or your personal preferences can all play into the ideal number you need to be your best. The rigid "8-hour rule" may not the acceptable answer to optimal health, after all, and there is a wide range of experiences that suggest this may be more anecdotal than we like to admit. In a survey of over 20 celebs and entrepreneurs, from Arianna Huffington to Tim Cook, there was no consensus of an ideal sleep target. While the average of all these superstars was 6.6 hours, their schedules were highly personalized and varied. It turns out that the sleep needed to ward off creative block in one artist may not be nearly enough for another.

Like most matters of artistry, the link between creativity and sleep is real, but the logistics are likely entirely personal. Quality of sleep may matter much more than quantity, with doctors suggesting that power naps during the day could have a huge benefit to your overall physical health and mental well-being. Whether you work in an artistic field, or not, taking care of your body is a good idea, and sleep should be a priority for peak performance.

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