Sleep Routines of Creative Types

Creative people think differently. Turns out, they also sleep differently. How to develop sleep routines that work with, not against, your creative process.

Here are some sleep habits of creative people, both the good and the not-so-good.

Good Habit: Dream On It

Dreaming can help tackle a creative project.

According to The Telegraph and other sources, Paul McCartney says the entire melody for his hit Beatles song, “Yesterday," came to him in a dream. When McCartney woke, he couldn't believe the tune didn't already exist because it was so complete.

Dreaming happens during the REM stage of sleep. To tap into your dream state, wake up without an alarm clock, clinical psychologist Michael Breus says in his book, The Power of When. Breus calls this getting in sync with your “REM rhythm." Why no alarm clock? Most REM sleep occurs in the final third of your sleep cycle.

“If you are not getting enough sleep, you are likely cutting off REM—and creativity! During the last two hours of sleep and for the first half hour post-wake-up, your brain is bubbling with ideas," writes Breus.

Other experts say that sleep is a time of regeneration, and giving your mind space to wander and to cleanse itself also allows your mind to make new mental connections, the type at the heart of the creative process. According to scientists interviewed by TIME magazine, our daytime multitasking can keep our minds from finding solutions — consider how sometimes, an answer to a vexing issues comes only after you close your laptop.

So let your mind wander at night. Give your brain time to turn off and relax. For the morning, keep a notebook next to your bed, to capture those early-morning ideas. Read more about what happens to your brain when you hit the snooze button.

Bad Habit: Irregular Sleep Schedules

There's the image of creative geniuses working at a fever pitch throughout the night, depriving themselves of sleep. This sleep habit is a no-no for reaching your creative potential. Giving into creative bursts without regard for sleep might zap your creativity later. Pull all-nighters too often, and you might crank out a few chapters in that Great American novel, but you may never finish writing the book.

A Baylor University study published in the Journal of Interior Design found that interior design students who repeatedly put off sleep to finish projects, and then tried to compensate with long naps, suffered a loss of cognition and reduced creativity. Researchers say this dispels the myth that the best ideas come in the middle of the night.

As this New York magazine chart shows, creative thinkers from Immanuel Kant to Maya Angelou kept perfectly reasonable sleep hours, from 10 a.m. to 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., demonstrating that images of poor, tortured souls burning 1 a.m. candles while hunched over a desk are be a bit overdrawn.

A Final Note: Sleep positioning

Left or right? While sleep positions might not change your creativity, they could predict it. Research conducted by the University of Hertfordshire, published in Science Daily, on sleep positions and relationships found that the more creative partner tends to sleep on their left side.

Whatever your creative outlet—art or music, science or business--getting a good night's sleep matters to your creative output.

When you're awake, could more breaks mean more productivity? This article suggests yes.

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