Creative: Strengthen Your Spirit
No Time for Sleep
Do you feel guilty about taking a nap? Do your co-workers brag about how little sleep they get? Do you know people who send emails at 3:00 a.m. - and - then are praised for their tireless deeds?
Why do we think that sleep is a luxury? Why not just take a pill instead of wasting time sleeping?
Fast Company published an article today entitled, “Optimize Your Sleep for More Creative Thinking” in which the case is made for getting more sleep so that our brains can think more creatively. The article references a New York Times story from 2008, “We’ll Fill This Space, but First a Nap” by Lisa Berlin, the Project Historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford. Both articles discuss the value of sleep. The NYT discussion goes into some interesting history, anecdotes, and useful information:
“WASTE not life,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, patron saint of American entrepreneurs. “In the grave will be sleeping enough.”
Centuries later, the attitude toward sleep in America — and in American business, in particular — has scarcely changed. Corporate culture reveres the e-mail message sent at 3 a.m., the executive who rushes directly into a meeting from a red-eye flight. Bumper stickers offer an updated version of Franklin’s dictum: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
“There is a cultural bias against sleep that sees it as akin to shutting down, or even to death,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Sleep Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Most people, Dr. Ellenbogen says, think of the sleeping brain as similar to a computer that has “gone to sleep” — it does nothing productive. Wrong. Sleep enhances performance, learning and memory. Most unappreciated of all, sleep improves creative ability to generate aha! moments and to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas.
Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, once defined creativity as “just connecting things.” Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface.
While traditional stories about sleep and creativity emphasize vivid dreams hastily transcribed upon waking, recent research highlights the importance of letting ideas marinate and percolate.
“Sleep makes a unique contribution,” explains Mark Jung-Beeman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies the neural bases of insight and creative cognition.
Some sort of incubation period, in which a person leaves an idea for a while, is crucial to creativity. During the incubation period, sleep may help the brain process a problem.
“When you think you’re not thinking about something, you probably are,” says Dr. Jung-Beeman, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology.
Another theory is that typical approaches to problem-solving may decay or weaken during sleep, enabling the brain to switch to more innovative alternatives. A classic switching story, recounted in “A Popular History of American Invention” in 1924, involves Elias Howe’s invention of the automated sewing machine: after much frustration with his original model, which used a needle with an eye in the middle, Howe dreamed that he was being attacked by painted warriors brandishing spears with holes in the sharp end. He patented a new design based on the dream spears; by the time the patent expired in 1867, he had earned more than $2 million in royalties.
Go take a nap! Let your brain have a chance to connect the dots and outline a better pattern of thought.
In this season of increased holiday activity, take better care of yourself by sleeping more! Your friends, family and co-workers will no doubt appreciate your improved outlook - and - who knows, you might come up with a fabulous idea to make the world a better place.