“The most underrated creative hack is sleep.” Srinivas Rao – An Audience of One
Sleep is still a contested activity. Often enough, sleep is viewed as wasted time, unproductive, a sure sign of sloth and laziness.
When I looked up the benefits of a nap I was immediately assaulted by a pop-up ad for Starbucks Double Shot energy drink. – Do more stupid things faster and with more energy!
Despite energy drinks, admonishments, trends, humans need sleep. A lot of it. More than we are currently getting. And creatives need even more.
Lack of sleep affects working memory. We’ve all experienced how, after a bad night we can’t think very clearly. Lack of sleep will make us psychotic. Days without sleep will kill us.
Consider how we describe sleep. A good night’s sleep means we were out cold, dreaming and giving our brains time to repair and reconnect. A “bad” night sleep means we were, essentially, awake. The language gives it away.
According to Sleep Medicine Reviews – “Sleep plays a major role in the brain’s connectivity and plasticity. Plasticity is involved in learning and memory. through its effects on the synapses, or connections between neurons. Research has shown that when animals learn a new task, their neurons seem to strengthen the synaptic connections involved in learning that task during the next sleep cycle.”
Even better, Research from Berkeley found that sleeping for an hour dramatically boosts and restores brain power, in turn making it easier to learn and retain new information.
“He can be taught!” – Aladdin’s Genie
If we do sleep we can count on the theory of plasticity and confidently launch into a new skill or project. We can learn anything at any time in our life, which is both super great and really depressing because now we have yet another line item on our to-do list.
How can we use sleep to enhance our creativity?
If we know that napping after reading an assignment or paper will fix it more strongly in our memory, we can apply that idea to our creative work. Neuroscientists at the City University of New York found that taking a nap boosts a sophisticated type of memory that helps us see big picture ideas and be more creative. The study used a 90-minute nap, but researchers say even short naps (12 minutes or more) can have a positive effect on memory. Which is a good thing, since we often don’t have a full 90 minutes of our day to turn over to rest (Maybe we should, that’s another argument). A short nap – about 20 minutes is the average – will improve your mood, help concentration, make you more alert and boost your motor skills.
Can’t figure out what to do with a character or thorny work issue? Knocking back more caffeine or energy drinks may not be the solution. You will be upright, just not very smart.
Push away from the computer and lay down. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you find you are just banging away at the computer or defaulting to your favorite social media feed, stop everything and rest.
When you wake, you will be refreshed and quite possibly have a brand new idea, courtesy of your fabulous and now well rested, brain.
PS I had to nap before I found a way to finish this post.