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Why Creatives Need Sleep Time to Thrive

Kevin Whipps April 11, 2024 · 5 min read

You probably don’t get enough sleep – statistically, anyway. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough rest, and if you’re a creative, I’ve got good money that you’re that one. Why? Because we, as a group, tend to work our butts off late into the night to get things done. We rationalize it by thinking that since there are less people awake, it’s easier to get things done because there are less distractions like email to deal with. Or because we’re night owls and we thrive in the dark. Or we just like it to be nighttime when we work because it makes us “productive.” Here’s the problem: you need sleep. And you need it even more if you want to be a successful creative. Why? Let’s get into it.

The Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep

The cynical guy would respond to that headline with, “To feel more rested,” but that’s not the only thing to think about. If you’re a creative person – designer, artist, writer, etc. – then you need sleep to perform. Don’t believe me?

You’ll Be More Creative

There have been numerous studies that correlate sleep and creativity. As it turns out, if you go without sleep, your creativity is impaired, and you won’t be able to perform as well. Plus, going to sleep is like resetting your mind, which can solve problems for you by showing you alternative methods.

Sleep Can Spur Creative Thoughts

Although naps are great, it turns out that some people perform creative tasks better in the morning because of their sleep patterns. Since you go through a deep period of REM sleep just before you wake up, it can clear out the other random thoughts running throughout your head, freeing you up to do your creative tasks. Plus, that’s when you’re often dreaming, which can give you ideas as well. Famously, Paul McCartney claimed that **the tune for “Yesterday” came to him in a dream.

You’re in Good Company

In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, he has a chart that shows the sleeping habits of famous geniuses. If you look closely (it helps to zoom in), you’ll see that many of them at least 7 hours of sleep in there, as opposed to the 4-5 you’re likely getting.

How to Get Enough Sleep

Alright, you get it: you need more sleep. But how do you do that when you’re doomed to long work days and late deadlines? Fortunately, we have the Mayo Clinic to answer some of those questions.

Schedule It Out

My dad once told me that if he had 8 hours to get a project done that should take 2 hours to complete, he’d somehow find a way for it to take 8 hours. Sounds silly, but it turns out that’s a thing, and you may suffer from it as well. Instead, schedule out your sleep. How does that help? It limits the time you’re able to procrastinate, because if you have a “hard out” at a specific time, you simply can’t work anymore. Just stay true to the schedule, and you’ll be OK. Oh, and make sure to schedule about 8 hours per night – 7 may be optimal.

Limit Caffeine, Fluids, and Food

Fun fact: I have the bladder of a toddler. If I have caffeine after 6pm, I’m going to be up all night going to the bathroom, and the same goes for too much water or other beverages. Waking up a lot to go to the bathroom means you’re constantly dipping in and out of REM sleep, and that’s no bueno. Same goes for food, particularly if you’re prone to indigestion, which can also make you restless.

Make the Environment Ideal for Sleep

In the summers, we get sunlight around 5am in my part of the U.S., and if we didn’t have blackout shades in our bedroom, I’d be up with the roosters. I’ve also found that if my mattress is junk or my pillow lumpy, I won’t get a good night’s sleep. Makes sense, right? Make your bedroom environment ideal for sleep – and only sleep – by removing distractions, including anything with LED status lights that could keep you going. If necessary, use ear plugs to block out sound and sleep masks to block out the light. Whatever it takes.

Learn How to Sleep

You’d think that this would be fairly obvious, but not everyone can get to sleep easily. There are a few different options you can try, but my favorite is the 4-7-8 method. The gist is to put the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth, then inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. It’s amazing how it relaxes your body, and if you keep doing it long enough, you’ll fall asleep. View it here:

Experiment with Different Methods

If you work from home and don’t have to keep a set schedule, you’ve got a ton of options. One that I’ve tried before is a bi-modal sleeping pattern, where you essentially sleep twice a day, just for different lengths of time. In my case, I would take a nap in the middle of the day, and then go to bed later so that I could wake up at 6am with the family. I’ve also tried the opposite, where I wake up at 4am to get a head start on the day, then nap later. It’s similar to writer Kelly Sue DeConnick’s 3am wake up time, and she gets a ton done, so maybe it will work for you.

The important takeaway from all of this is that you need sleep. I know it’s easy to push off because everything is more important, but sleep needs to take priority. Seriously, it’s your health that’s at risk, so take care of yourself.

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About the Author
Kevin Whipps

Hi! My name is Kevin Whipps, and I'm a writer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. When I'm not working taking pictures of old cars and trucks, I'm either writing articles for Creative Market or hawking stickers at Whipps Sticker Co.

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