Creativity boost, eyes wide shut?

We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Not surprisingly, many of us are preoccupied with how to get the best shut-eye.

Charles Dickens insisted on his bed facing North. Benjamin Franklin would have an extra bed on standby, so that should he wake up feeling hot, he could switch to a bed that was still cool and fresh. Michael Phelps sleeps in a pressure chamber that simulates an altitude of 9,000 feet to increase red blood cell production.

Most of us need anywhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping less or more is not optimal unless you are part of a tiny minority. In a study of 3000 professionals the fewest sick days were reported with about 7.7 hours of sleep per night. An indicator of whether we are getting enough sleep is looking at the time it takes us to fall asleep: anything less than 5 minutes means we are sleep deprived, the typical time it should take is between 10 and 15 minutes.

Getting the right amount of sleep is closely related with mental and physical health. In fact, sleep has significant restorative qualities: it promotes white blood cell count and immunity and reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack and overall inflammation. Adequate sleep keeps our weight in check as it regulates appetite and increases metabolism. It functions like ‘spring cleaning’ for the brain, flushing out memory-robbing protein fragments, solidifying memories we wish or need to keep. Sleep reduces stress and boosts creativity by up to 20 percent. As Steinbeck said: “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

In fact, during REM sleep, the dream stage, our brain’s neurons look for patterns and connections between new memories and existing knowledge. As we dream, the rational control center of the brain is deactivated, producing an amazingly creative state. Ideas pop up that we would normally suppress. Paul McCartney conjured ‘Yesterday’ following a dream.

Want to send your creativity in a certain direction? Contemplate a situation you are interested in solving (make sure it is not a problem that stresses you) and think about this conundrum as you brush your teeth before you hit the sack.

Here a few quick tips to boost your shut-eye:

If you still cannot get the shut-eye you need, consider seeing a professional such as Dr. Guy Meadows who runs London’s Sleep School.

Having said all this on how sleep is important, there are times when sacrificing sleep can be life affirming. This Sunday I got up at 3.45 am to catch the sunrise in London’s Richmond Park, a once in a life time spectacle I wouldn’t have wanted to miss: