It's only a few hours since you fell asleep and already you're jolted upright in bed with a sort of panic. Your mind races with all the things you need to complete or improve. While in the story "Sleep" insomnia is entertaining, in real life it's not quite the same. For writers, insomnia and sleep deprivation aren't unusual terms. The sleepless writer is even a stereotype. However, staying awake for countless hours can be detrimental to writing. creative thinking, learning, repair, and concentration.
Creativity at 4am.
“The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world.”
― Leonard Cohen
The reason many people wake up with a racing heart is a sensation of guilt. If you're a person of high ambitions, you feel like you need every spare moment to be productive. Writers often suffer from periods of sleeplessness for the same reason: They feel as though they need to write something do or do something more with themselves.
Writers and other creative types also suppose there's an extra spark of creativity that comes with staying awake. The idea is some of the wildest ideas come from a dreamscape, so perhaps if you're actually awake during those times you sleep you're facing a dreamlike mentality, which in theory, could improve your art dramatically.
Robert Louis Stevenson claimed he came up with numerous scenes to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during a dream. Early drafts even reflected a dreamlike state when he wrote the story, for when he started to write, he continued until it was nearly finished without correcting a single grammatical error. So maybe if you could access such creativity while awake, a writer could soar through a manuscript until its finish.
While it might be possible to write under a dreamlike influence every so often, it doesn't do the writer any good to write night after night without getting any sleep. In fact, it's important to notice what Stevenson did. He didn't write under some sleepless trance; he turned off his inner editor. Although it's difficult, the best way to finish a work of art is to get the sketch or jot the rough draft down and fix the errors later. Think of it like driving: Sometimes you don't mind the way to work, but when you're in stop-and-go traffic, you lose all motivation.
Another important factor to Stevenson's story is that The Strange Case of Dr Jerkyll and Mr Hyde stemmed from a dream. He didn't stay awake to come with ideas; he had them during a dream. He might've spent a few long nights awake to finish the manuscript, but his ideas came from a dream. Still, you might be thinking, if dreams are so creatively potent, then why not write when you should be dreaming?
It just doesn't work that way. In fact, a study revealed that participants who stayed awake almost 32 hours found a severe drop in creativity. They couldn't perform well on their figural and verbal tests. However, some studies revealed sleep has no impact on creativity, and perhaps insists that creative personality types have a harder time sleeping and show creative improvements when they do no sleep. In addition, these same studies show that controlled samples - people who were tested to be "less creative" - even saw a spike in their abilities to create. In the end, though ,there's no conclusive data either way.
What a Sleep Deprivation Can Do . . . "Scientifically"
To validify the following argument I must first introduce you to Shelby Harris - and no, I don't mean the world's oldest man.
Shelby Harris, Psy.D., C.BSM is Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Neurology as well as Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. A graduate of Brown University, Dr. Harris received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University.
As a licensed psychologist, Dr. Harris specializes in behavioral sleep medicine and CBT for anxiety and depression. She has published and presented research on the neuropsychological effects of insomnia in older adults as well as behavioral treatments for insomnia, parasomnias, narcolepsy and excessive daytime sleepiness. Dr. Harris is also a consultant for the New York Times "Consults Blog."
Harris argues sleep is period in which the body can rest while the mind is still very active. During REM, the body repairs itself, which is important to digestion, treating cell damage, and memory. Also, a lack of sleep weakens attention, concentration, and learning capabilities. Insomnia can even provoke paranoid personality traits.
While you're able to procure a creative spark during occasional sleepless nights, habitual sleep deprivation can ultimately affect the way you learn and how interpret things - both are essential to a creative work, such as a manuscript. Some of the ideas may be founded, but the construction of the narrative can often be too broad or unfocused if you stay awake every night to find that inner genius.
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