Go to Sleep!

November 7, 2011

Posted by Deborah Atherton

As we are all constantly searching for more time to do our creative projects, we will all have frequently encountered this advice: wake up an hour earlier and work then, while the world is still quiet.  (This is also a favorite of people who are trying to get you to exercise, or get more work done.) As a survivor of more books and articles on writing, creativity, and productivity than I can count, I am going to give you the opposite advice: Go To Bed, and stay there!

When we are very young, and staying up all night to finish papers for our teachers our professors, this may be less vital. Our bodies and minds will suffer any amount of abuse and survive, and even be relatively perky, the next morning.  But once you hit 25, and definitely once you hit 30, your body really won’t settle for less sleep than your natural internal schedule demands.  If you need 7 hours, and you decide to give your body 6 in order to rise at 5 AM and write five pages, or go out in the world and photograph it before it is awake, or even get in 100 pushups, your mind will eventually take its dream-deprived revenge.

Our creativity depends on whatever it is our brains and unconscious minds do at night, and if we don’t give ourselves enough time to do that, our imagination will either go on strike, refusing to come up with any ideas at all, or start cooking up some very odd scenarios indeed.  Whether you are one of those people who wake up with ideas and want to get to work immediately, or whether you are someone who really doesn’t become alert until midnight, the sleep you acquire at whatever hours you choose to acquire it, is vital for your creativity.

Ben Stein (sometimes a surprising source of wisdom) gave this advice on a recent CBS Sunday Morning, and I thought it was well given (although I paraphrase): Sleep. Sleep extra hours, whenever you get the chance.  Sleep if you are bored. Sleep if you are tired.  Turn off all those tempting electronic devices, and sleep.    

If you give your brain enough time and room to sleep, it will return the favor by offering a lot more creative entertainment and ideas than even your i-Pad can give you. So, unless you are one of those naturally early-to-bed, early-to-rise people—and I know there are still a few out there!—forget getting up at 5 am and depriving yourself of the hour or two or three of sleep that might make the  critical difference. Sleep, and find some other time in which to be creative.  Your dreams are calling you!