Making Connections: The Link Between Sleep and Creativity
Geniuses Have Bedtimes, Too.
Our culture tends to imagine the super-smart and productive among us as furtively working all night, burning candles to the numbs and only breaking through in the wee hours of the morning. But, is this accurate? Do geniuses really stay up all night, or does their success come after having a full night of sleep?
In order to answer that question and others, writer Mason Currey researched the day-to-day schedules of great minds, including Beethoven and Flannery O’Connor, in his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. This infographic from the book shows the work cycles and hints at the sleep cycles of these creative geniuses.
At a glance, this great visual debunks the commonly-held notion that a lack of sleep boosts creativity. In fact, we know that sleep can make creativity that much more dynamic.
All of these great minds slept for the recommended 7 to 8 hours per night. Even though sleep can seem like a nuisance at times -- such as when we want to keep our binge-watch going with ‘just one more episode’ or when we have to finish that last work assignment -- sleep is vital to our mental health and our ability to function properly.
Sleep Can Help Create Those Aha! Moments
Sleep is often perceived as boring and unproductive. Because of this, many of the benefits of sleep are underappreciated and most people don’t associate their creative insights with sleep. On the contrary, sleep enhances our creative ability to make interesting connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, according to Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Sleep Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital. Making these kinds of creative connections is the essential work of artists, innovators and other geniuses.
Also, when people get the proper amount of sleep, they can try to become aware of their dreams. Dreams can help to inspire creative work and help us to develop our memory and creativity.
Learning & Remembering
A study performed by Harvard in 2010 found that dreaming may reactivate and reorganize recently learned material, which would help improve memory and boost performance. Participants in the study were asked to navigate a complicated maze. At a break, some people were allowed to sleep for 90 minutes while others remained awake. When the volunteers tackled the maze again, the few who dreamed about the task during their naps were able to improve their performance.
This means that just because your brain is asleep doesn’t mean it’s not doing important work. Proper sleep can lead to problem solving and innovation, therefore you should be sure catch those extra zzz’s that you’ve been shoving aside.
REM is Key
Naps can sometimes be lifesavers, but they are usually not long enough to allow for REM sleep to occur. REM is where dreams happen. Another Harvard study found that REM sleep, in addition to increasing alertness and attention, allows for us to process creative problems from when we were awake and find better, more efficient solutions. Naps are great for a quick refresh and can lead to better mood and other benefits, but our brains need good quality, long sleep in order to help our creativity.
Don’t feel pressured to stay up all night in order to solve a problem or work on your novel. Healthy sleep is an essential part of the creative process. And if your mattress is uncomfortable or more than 8 years old, here’s another genius idea: it might be time to replace it so that you can sleep better and sleep smarter.