Sleep & Creativity
By Linda Dessau - 01/18/2005 - 05:23 PM EST
In my life, sleep is the number one way that I can either enhance my self-care and nourish myself or defeat my self-care and deplete my energy, peace of mind & productivity all in one shot.
When I’m rested I’m more resilient to stress. My body is more flexible and willing to work, my head is more clear and focused, I feel happier and more at peace and I’m nicer to myself AND to everyone else.
When I’m overtired, on the other hand – my body and my emotions feel more brittle. Unexpected turns can send me into a hurricane of a tizzy, my mind is foggy and I’m much less likely to be kind to you OR me.
I know this. I’ve known this for some time now. So, you’d think I consistently get enough sleep to make sure that first scenario happens all the time, right? After all, I AM the “Self-Care Coach”, my self-care must be perfect, right?
Well…….not so much.
As well as writing about sleep, I must mention another self-care concept here – in order to explain why I’m a bit bleary-eyed today. The concept is SELF-SABOTAGE.
The dictionary definition of sabotage is "an act or process tending to hamper or hurt" or "deliberate subversion". Why on earth would we sabotage ourselves? That's a complicated answer. And a simple one. We choose to.
Sometimes it's so frightening to imagine changing, growing or making conscious choices that we deliberately hamper our own efforts. We make choices every minute of every day. Our life is up to us. These are intimidating thoughts. And doing things the way we've always done them feels safe and comforting.
I know I’ll feel so much better if I get a good night’s sleep. And sometimes, for whatever reasons, I don’t choose to “feel good”.
And when self-love and common sense win out and I AM able to do what I need to do in order to get a good night’s sleep, I am rewarded.
Aside from benefits I’ve already mentioned, a good night’s sleep can also have specific rewards for us creatively. A few months ago I came across an article titled “Does a good sleep make you smarter?” (www.msnbc.com, in the “Health” section). The article described a research project going on at the University of Luebeck in Germany, which has determined that a good sleep not only makes us smarter and better at problem-solving, but more creative as well!
The article points out that “history is dotted with incidents where artists and scientists have awakened to make their most notable contributions after long periods of frustration.”
In other words, when we’re struggling with a problem in the hours before sleep, our brains actually keep working on the problem while we’re sleeping, and the answer might just “pop out” in the morning!
So, the longer and more restful sleep that we have, the more time there is for our “sleeping brain” to work on the problem that our “awake brain” has been struggling with.
This relates to the common spiritual practice of praying, before bed, for the solution to a problem, or to the self-help practice of writing a question on a piece of paper and slipping that under your pillow before bed.
So what stops you from getting a good night’s sleep? How do you sabotage your efforts? Over-work? Television? Internet surfing or gaming? Food, drink or other substances that make it difficult to sleep? Irregular sleep habits?
Here are the five things that work best for ME for getting a good night’s sleep. For more suggestions, you can read my article in the Genuine Self-Care newsletter (choose August 2003 from the drop-down menu), and also see this great collection of tips from SleepNet.com.
- Turning off the computer and television one hour before I’d like to be asleep. This gives me time to wind down, quiet my thoughts and prepare myself for sleep.
- Getting out of bed early on the weekends. This means I don’t stay up too late or sleep in too long on the weekends. I try and keep my bedtime and wake-up times within about an hour of what I do during the week. Otherwise I spend half the week getting re-adjusted and life’s too short!!
- Giving up caffeine. Even before I gave it up completely, I really had to limit my caffeine and “just say no” anytime after about 5:00 p.m. or else the caffeine affected my sleep that night.
- Breathing techniques and other relaxation exercises. Just a few minutes of deep breathing can calm me and send me right off to sleep.
The simplest tips are to focus on breathing from the belly (diaphragmatic breathing) and to focus on long exhalations (exhalation is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for relaxation).
For detailed breathing exercises, send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org. IMPORTANT NOTE: You will only receive the notes if you respond to the confirmation email – check your email for that as soon as you’ve sent your request.
- Setting the scene with music. I use music both as I’m winding down and getting ready for bed, and as I’m going to sleep. I’ve experimented to find the music that best does the job for me; this is obviously a very individual choice.
I recommend either instrumental music or vocal music that is either without words or sung in a language you don’t understand (so you’re not mentally caught up in the words as you’re trying to fall asleep). Wind instruments (I like the shakuhachi flute) are nice since the natural breaths and pauses that the musician takes can mirror your own deep, slow breathing.
Have you ever woken up in the morning (or in the middle of the night!) with the solution to a problem, a new idea for a song, or another creative spark? Visit the Forum and let’s hear about it!
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