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Creative Mind and Sleep: Does Innovation Thrive In The Night?

What personality and genetics have to do with why creatives seem destined to get less sleep

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BY Tracy Leigh Hazzard - 21 Apr 2016

It always seems to be the artists, the creators, the inventors, and the designers who suffer from insomnia. Imagine: Einstein in his messy haired glory working away in his lab on the general theory of relativity. Is it a coincidence that this genius stereotype is pervasive? Or is there something more to this 'up-all-night' stereotype?

I am a night owl and my husband and business partner is a morning lark. He can fall asleep talking to me at 9pm. Two members of my family gave me a copy of Arianna Huffington's book for my birthday. Obviously I have an issue sleeping, but always thought genetics played a role in whether you are late to bed or early to rise. So it doesn't seem a far stretch to consider personality types as a driving factor in our need for ZZZ's as well.

Famous Short Sleepers

There is a long list of successful designers, inventors, creators, and business people who maintained less-than-normal sleeping habits throughout their lifetimes. Individuals such as Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Nikola Tesla who all claimed to survive, and even thrive, on 4-hours or less each night. Jumping forward in time we have heard from tycoons such as Jack Dorsey and famous personalities like Martha Stewart who also learned to thrive with little to no sleep.

Letting Inspiration Strike at Any Moment

Creative-types have to be open to the moment in case inspiration should strike which could be a possible indicator when it comes to interrupted sleep patterns. We know there is a specific genetic mutation attributed to so-called 'short sleepers' but these individuals make up only 1-3% of the population, and thus far there has been no correlation linking this specific mutation and an individual's personality type.

The more rational argument could lie in the busy brain activity of creative thinkers. Creativity itself requires very dynamic brain collaborations from both the left as well as the right side. All of this creative activity taking place in the brain is very capable of interrupting sleep patterns or sleep altogether.

The Amygdala Plays a Role

Another interesting aspect we should take into consideration, when it comes to creativity, the brain, and sleep is the role our amygdala plays. When we suffer from sleep deprivation, this can trigger higher levels of activity in the amygdala, which happens to be the emotional center of the brain. A stimulated amygdala leads to... you guessed it... improved or higher levels of creativity. This cycle takes place behind-the-scenes with every hour of sleep lost which could explain the cycle in a reverse manner.

When UCLA neuropsychologist Robert Bilder wanted to figure out what exactly happens in the brain of exceptionally creative individuals, he decided to run an MRI scan on the brain of Police drummer Stewart Copeland. To his surprise, Dr. Bilder discovered something exceptional. Copeland's brain, it turns out, had a larger than average amygdala.

Rather than our creative thinking cycles leading to less sleep... perhaps it is less sleep leading to our creative thinking cycles, pushing our amygdala into overdrive.

Connecting the Dots

Whether it is our emotional processes, our initial sleep habits, our amygdala, or our personality type inspiring creativity, one thing is for certain: without it our world sure would be a different place. So the next time you find yourself burning the midnight oil contemplating the design elements of your next project, only to turn around and rise with early birds, blame it on your creative side and know that the creative community thanks you for your contribution.

source: inc.com

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