Nothing Good Ever Happens After 2am
“2ams were made for poets. Lovers. Writers. Visionaries. Photographers. Painters. Over-thinkers. Silent seekers. These are my favourite hours.”
There’s no denying the rumour that creatives are tortured souls. It’s why we affectionately refer to them as “struggling artists.” Whilst we can debate the nature vs nurture aspect of creativity, one can’t help but question the simpler conditions for creativity. For example: sleep.
Some of the greatest artists ever known have had a love-hate relationship with sleep. “Sleep, those little slices of death – how I loathe them” groaned Edgar Allan Poe. F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly said that “the worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to”. We are not debating when creatives sleep, as we know that they sleep when we work and work when we sleep. The question is, how much? And more importantly, how much should they sleep for optimum creativity?
We know that creatives are different, and that they do most things differently than the norm. Just Something: The Magazine for Visual Addicts explores a few traits; they tend to day dream a lot, and get bored easily, get lost in time, and are sure to fail and continue trying. What’s interesting is that creatives tend to follow the traits of a very ambitious person. Ambitious people have an odd relationship with sleep too. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic PH.D. of Psychology Today explains that “The biographies of exceptional achievers suggest that the one thing they all seem to have in common is the lack of sleep.” And also notes “The key point here is not to promote insomnia or the lack of sleep, but to highlight some of its most productive causes: ambition and creativity.”
Do creatives battle sleep because they are ambitious or because they are creative?
We know from previous research that not only are creatives different in personality, they are also wired differently. Their brains tend to have more grey matter than non-creatives. When it comes to picking sides, there are two strong opponents. “Creativity and Sleep” by tuck.com suggests that sleep is better for creatives, reasoning “[scientists] have found a connection between sleep and “aha!” creativity. Setting aside a problem for an incubation period can spur creativity and sleep can be such a period” and goes on to conclude in their article “Occasional insomnia appears to help some people produce new art and work, but is a detriment to others. It is perhaps true that more people find it a detriment than finding it useful. Long-term insomnia and the accompanying sleep debt are almost surely negative for creativity.”
In the opposing corner, we have evidence that creatives are better when they are tired, and running on little sleep. It is fabled that Leonardo Da Vinci was able to work with taking a few 20 min power naps throughout a 24 hour period. According to VoiceGlance “There’s a mantra that I have, which is fatigue is your friend,” Michaels (Creator of Saturday Night Live) said. “There’s a point at which, in anything artistic, at least from my perspective, the critical faculty can overwhelm the creative faculty. When you’re tired, you just write it, and all sorts of different kinds of work comes out.” The article continues to justify the lack of sleep argument “when creative types are tired, they lose their filter. And then, “someone takes a chance that they would never, if they were cautious or they were smart, would have ever attempted.”
From a scientific perspective, a study by Mareike Wieth at Albion College probed into this issue by giving people problems to answer at their non-optimal time of the day; i.e. times when they were tired (morning people were given problems in the evening and evening people were given problems in the morning).
What Wieth found was that people answered math questions better when they were well-rested. However, for problems that required more creative thinking, the people who were more tired did better.”
It is interesting that the sleep patterns differ according to the type of creative, Visual vs Verbal. “The study, which compared the sleeping patterns of social science and art students, strengthens the hypothesis that visual creativity and verbal creativity involve different psychobiological mechanisms.” Writes Douglas Eby. “Visually creative people tend to have a poorer quality of sleep overall, while verbally creative people tend to sleep longer and later”.
At the end of the day, we are all tired. We are tired because our bodies need sleep. It’s a simple as that. Whilst one can understand the argument against sleep, we do tend to err on the side of health and safety, and nothing is better than a good night’s rest.
Robyn Oettlé is the Production Manager of The Fort.