Almost half of the population of the United States isn’t sleeping enough — and for some in the creative and business communities, that’s viewed as a badge of honor.
The ability to function without sleep is often viewed as a strength; after all, if you don’t sleep, you’ve got all the more time to do things, make things, and change the world.
But if you want to be more creative, either in your work or your side-projects, making time for shut-eye should be considered necessary, not optional.
Both Arianna Huffington and Fitbit agree: A good night’s sleep can improve your health, productivity and even your levels of happiness. Watch more with Arianna about how to make time for quality sleep and the incredible benefits she’s experienced herself, in the full interview on 30 Days of Genius.
“Sleeping in is treated as a cherished luxury—it’s somehow become normal that people wake up still exhausted, and anything but is a notable exception,” writes Cody C. Delistraty for the Atlantic, adding that “rising before the body wants to affects not only morale and energy, but brain function as well.”
Among artists, insomnia has anecdotally been viewed as a kind of silver-lined curse — it both affords extra time in the day to make art, but also leaves the maker feeling exhausted, depleted, and uncoordinated. Some artists even attribute their creative ability to sleeplessness.
“When you’re sleep-deprived I imagine it’s quite similar to having taken certain drugs,” musician and neuroscientist Dave Bayley told the Guardian, “The logical side of your brain is slowly withering away because there’s not enough energy to power it, and all these crazy ideas start happening that your brain would normally suppress…It’s so bizarre and interesting.”
However, the cognitive drawbacks to sleep deprivation far, far outweigh any potential creative benefit. And unlike a drug or even a drink (which can impair creativity, too), sleep loss is often involuntary, either due to time constraints, financial aspects, or a chemical imbalance.
And where drugs or alcohol may, in some subjects, help free up creative thought by allowing for a lessening of self-consciousness, sleep deprivation doesn’t set the brain or the body up for creative thinking or problem-solving. By putting stress on a person’s resources, both physical and mental, sleep loss hinders creativity in numerous ways.
Sleep may seem like a purely neutral state of rest, but the mysterious physiological necessity seems to actually aid in mental function more than we even realize. As you sleep, your brain is allowed to wander and work out problems, which allow for more fluid thought during waking hours. Rather than passively waiting for the time to awaken, the sleeping brain is actually putting in work — work that is key to creative thinking and the execution of tasks.
Studies dating as far back as the 1980s have found that sleep loss hamstrings “divergent” (read: creative) thought, and that those who haven’t achieved enough restful sleep need a hard time drawing connections and finding patterns. Numerous studies have found sleep deprivation to not only impair mental function, but also potentially harm physical health. Obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and other metabolic consequences have all been linked to sleep loss.
The sleep deprived brain has also been found to be more energetic — and even jumpy. Which sounds like it could be a boon to the creative brain, until you consider the times when the best ideas are usually born. Relaxed, neutral states of mind tend to provoke the most innovative alternative solutions. When your brain is constantly firing on all six cylinders, it tends not to be able to form unexpected connection. Losing sleep is not only hard on your body and brain, it doesn’t set you up to experience creative thought.
So how do you ensure that you’re giving your brain optimal resources for more creative thought? First, make sure to get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night, if at all possible. Additionally, recommends the CDC, it’s best to practice good sleep hygiene in order to attain the best quality of sleep.
That means powering down your devices, leaving your phone outside of the bed, and trying to give your brain enough time to relax and recuperate each day. It also might mean trimming back commitments or, at the very least, leaving work at a reasonable time.
For more on how to be a better leader and get better quality sleep, watch Arianna Huffington’s interview on 30 Days of Genius.