When is the last time you let your creativity take control? Are you someone who believes that color, design, music, and dance are life sustaining? Or did your artistic explorations peak with a finger painting project back in primary school?
Chances are, when you were young, a box of crayons and a coloring book (or even a few sheets of construction paper) could keep you occupied for hours. Your days were likely filled with make-believe games and activities. A bicycle was a horse or a motorcycle. Leaves, twigs, and dirt could become a fairy dwelling or a secret hideout. Your imagination was limitless.
Sadly, sometimes, we lose that childlike sense of delight, and our technicolor worlds become a nondescript shade of gray. Careers and responsibilities become the center of our lives leaving little room for silly, made up games and fun. With the days of napping and early bedtimes left solidly behind in our childhood, could our sleep quality somehow have an effect on our creativity and imagination?
Maybe it is time to return to your elementary roots. That period in our lives afforded a type of luxury many adults no longer can afford- an ability to luxuriate in the present moment. Could the carefree days of childhood be recreated with a bit more time for naps and imagination?
To determine whether creativity was specifically impacted by sleep deprivation, a fascinating study was conducted by Loughborough University that involved 24 subjects. Twelve of them experienced their normal sleep cycle while the other half remained awake for 32 hours. As could be anticipated, the sleep deprived suffered “impaired performance on all test scales (e.g., “flexibility,” the ability to change strategy, and “originality, ” generation of unusual ideas).” Through additional testing, researchers found that while other capabilities were significantly impaired, convergent thinking tasks- i.e., questions having one correct answer- seemed to be more resilient than creative (or divergent) abilities.
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Not only can a lack of sleep quash our creativity, but, in fact, sleep may also unlock our inner imagination. Joanne Cantor, Ph.D.,speaks about the ways in which we can “snooze to release our Muse.” In an article for Psychology Today, she recommends keeping a notebook and pen by your bed to write down words and images that arise upon waking. Since we are more receptive to the workings of unconscious brain activity at that time, ideas that might have lain dormant now bubble to the surface.
In a New York Times article, Leslie Berlin reinforces the idea that “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.”
In the same article, Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Sleep Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, explains how the pace and beliefs of American society can negatively impact our view of sleep. This belief is epitomized in the phrase, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
In actuality, sleep is a daily way to detoxify your brain, recharge for the day ahead, and unlock your inner creativity. While some may believe that sleep is a waste of time or that our brains, like a computer, shut down when we’re asleep, science shows that this could not be farther from the truth.