By Rita DeAngelo
In recent years, getting sufficient sleep has gone out of style. We still love sleep, but we also love telling people how little we are getting. These declarations come across as testaments to our passion and dedication to our work, but the underlying statement is a competitive one. Much to the sleepy competitor’s dismay, those who stop working and hit the hay are going to win the race.
Walking away from a frustrating piece is not easy. Graduate painter Arthur Pena said, “I usually just fight through it, reminding myself that I need to get stuff done… I feel like if I’m sleeping I’m not being productive… If I’m stuck at like, 6 a.m., then I’ll go to sleep and put the work right in front of me, then I wake up and it’s the first thing I see and I know what’s wrong with it right then and there.”
When the body is allowed deep enough sleep to create Rapid Eye Movement (REM sleep), problem-solving abilities are greatly increased. The “aha!” moments that occur when the canvas is flipped, the perfect color registers, or a scrap sketch is suddenly the obvious answer.
Researchers from the University of California illustrated this by giving three groups of volunteers a creativity test (the Remote Associates Test, or RAT Test). The participants were provided with three words and asked for a fourth which could be associated with all three previous words. Later in the day, the groups received either a quiet period, a non-REM nap, or a nap with REM sleep. All three groups then retook the exam. Although there was no difference between the “quiet time” group and the “non-REM” group, the REM sleepers improved their scores by almost 40%.
The problem is, this new burst of creativity is hard to measure. Rarely will one wake up from sleep to have dreamed up a brilliant solution; the benefits are more subtle. The common mistake is to assume that because the benefits of REM sleep are hard to notice, there aren’t benefits to getting a good night’s rest.
NASA has proven that by allotting an average of 26 minutes to napping, pilots heighten their performance by 34% and raise their awareness by a whopping 54%.
Steve Jobs, described creativity as “just connecting things.” When asleep, the brain is able to tap ideas and memories, making connections between them that will increase the chances for innovative ideas. The key is, this only happens during REM sleep, which typically begins 70-90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs three to five times a night. That is why the 7-8 hours is so crucial; your brain needs time to reset itself. NASA’s 26-minute nap is a good quick fix, but don’t skimp on your brain’s serious downtime.
The University of Maryland Medical Center (2007) offers ten realistic ways to ensure you have a good night’s sleep:
1. Try a light snack before bed. Edibles such as milk and bananas are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which may assist in falling asleep.
2. Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Yoga and deep breathing calm your body and ease your brain.
3. Get up. If you can’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get out of bed and read for a short bit. Then try sleeping again.
4. Keep the TV out of your bedroom. Although what’s on might seem unimportant, television is still very engaging to the senses.
5. Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime for obvious reasons.
6. Try to keep your room at a good temperature and well-ventilated. A cool (but not cold) room is often your best bet, so you can make yourself cozy under the covers.
7. Give yourself wind-down time. No exercise at least four hours before going to bed. Let your body ease into relaxation.
8. Get up at the same time each morning. This will help regulate your body’s sleep pattern.
9. Block out the light. This will also help in the morning. Light will stimulate you to wake up, before its time to wake up.
10. Use the bed as a bed. It’s not an office or a snack table!