Sleep and creativity

I don’t sleep very well. I’ve had serious chronic insomnia since I was a child, and have been known to go for several days at a time without sleep. Specifically I have both sleep-onset and sleep-maintaining insomnia. In recent years my sleeping habits have improved, mostly due to complete physical exhaustion. And wine.

Lately though I’ve been experiencing a regression, and am only getting 2-3 hours sleep per night, if I’m lucky. I don’t feel tired, I’m fully functioning. Typically I am up at 6am, having finally gone to bed at about 3am. Insomnia is not like having a restless night. You don’t feel tired and sleepy the next day. Don’t get me wrong, it does have an effect on your body, but not like general lack of sleep will.

Usually I have medication that will help me sleep. But since becoming a mother I haven’t taken it. I’m too frightened of not being able to hear my kids crying at night. So, when a bought of insomnia comes, I just have to struggle though it.

I’ve been reading a lot this week about the link between creativity and sleep, and am fascinated by how much sleep can improve creativity. It’s a well known fact that it’s during sleep that we process the things we have learned and experienced that day – which is why sleep is so important for children. It’s the point at which they are storing away all the new information they have learned. It’s the time of the day when they make sense of things.

As an adult the need for sleep does not diminish. We still need that time to recharge, to process, and to come up with solutions.

However, there has been much research done into sleep and creativity, with studies showing that doing creative work while deprived of sleep can actually lead to better outcomes and creativity. It’s all to do with the way out brains are wired – when tired they don’t function as well, and things don’t tend to link up properly, so the analytical part of our brain doesn’t function quite so well. However, this is great news for the creative part, which relishes the leaps in logic and non-linear thinking that lead to ‘thinking outside the box’ – making connections that we normally wouldn’t make when fully refreshed.

I’ve certainly noticed that I get more done on days where I haven’t slept well, I work better and feel more creative. I have better ideas and I don’t feel as lethargic as  do when I’ve slept all night.

There must be something in this link if the number of successful and creative people with insomnia is anything to go by. Insomniacs include Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas, Franz Kafka, and many, many others have suffered with insomnia.

Now, for all it’s ‘benefits’ insomnia can have some serious health implications. People with insomnia are 5 times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and twice as likely to suffer congestive heart failure. This is in addition to general wear caused to the body by lack of sleep.

Unfortunately there is very little that can be done about insomnia, even with medication. Most over the counter medications won’t help with insomnia, and prescription drugs will only work until your body becomes immune to them.

So, for now I’m hoping that this bought will pass quickly, and until it does, I’m getting five chapters a day done.

Sleep well folks,







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8 responses to “Sleep and creativity

  1. I hear you, Claire.

    Several years ago I was operated on for sleep apnea. They broke my jaw and moved it forward about 9mm.

    Yup, that’s right – I have “Glock Jaw”.

    Even now, my sleep is still broken intermittently by bouts of insomnia. I wake up and my mind is running. Nothing deep, nothing productive – just like a bad wire in a fire alarm system. I wake up and my mind says – “Get up. Start thinking. Something is wrong and you have to do something about it!”

    I may begin sleeping with a hammer beside the bed so that I can give myself a good whack in the skull the next time I wake up.

  2. Thanks for the article! I’ve had serious sleep issues my entire life and I’ve had insomnia since I was 11 years old. I’m also a fairly prolific creative writer. (Last year I wrote 12 novels in 12 months.) I always suspected there was a link between creativity and sleep but your article gives more proof to my hypothesis.

  3. I don’t have the problem of being unable to sleep, it’s more not being allowed to sleep. The moment I go to bed, I fall asleep instantly, but it’s the characters and next scenes of my stories that interrupt my sleep demanding to be written. A couple of times I’ve gone straight back to sleep only to re-dream the same scene over again and wake at the end of it. It’s easiest to get up and write them. I hope you manage to solve your sleep issues.

  4. I have suffered insomnia most of my life (including as a child). I went to a sleep doctor a couple of year ago, and he said that insomnia suffers either think too much (80%) or feel too much (20%). There are non-medication ways to redirect the thoughts or feelings that keep you awake, namely visualize walking and exploring on a beach as you fall asleep.

  5. I certainly agree with the article. Mostly, for creative individuals ideas just keep on flowing non stop specially during night. Maybe because of the stillness and the serenity of the surroundings. There’s no other things to distract you than your mind. That’s why most people who have insomnia has been told to tone down on their nicotine intake, because nicotine has that substance that can keep your mind awake.

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