What you should know about sleep to boost your creativity

“Come up with different usages for a brick.”

Everyone has some idea what creativity means, but how about the science of creativity? Psychologists have actually been studying creativity for a long time (although the interest in it has died a little in recent years). What they have found, for example, is there is a separation between different types of thinking.


First, we have convergent thinking, meaning the ability to give a “correct answer” to a question, like, for example, in tests! But creativity is defined by a completely different type of thinking, which scientists call divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is measurable, too, by using tests that don’t have a single answer. In the workshop, this was demonstrated by thinking of uses cases for a brick, e.g., using it as a hammer, breaking it, and using it as paint, etc.

Now to measure your creativity, you could count the different use cases for a brick that you came up with. That, however, tells you rather little. Instead, your best bet would be to use Torrence’s test of creativity. This test measures four things: fluency, the total number of solutions generated; flexibility, number of different categories of solutions; originality, the statistical rarity of the solutions; elaboration, amount of detail in solutions.

As might you have already thought, measuring creativity is a bit of a wild goose chase because the subject is so fuzzy, and the mentioned measuring method is just one many. More important is to understand the process of studying creativity, for it helps to know how something is considered to correlate with creativity.

Things to Know About Sleep

Then how about sleep? Turns out, maybe not so surprisingly, that it too has been extensively studied in psychology and a variety of other different fields. However, sleep is just one part of a broader subject called circadian rhythm, and last year three scientists won Nobel prize for researching it. Circadian rhythm is maybe one of the single most important factors to our health and wellbeing, affecting everything from our cognition to how well we burn fat.


So to understand sleep, you have to understand circadian rhythm and the circadian clock. Circadian rhythm is the inner clock of your body, adjusting your biological functions under solar time, meaning it runs the same time as our 24-hour clock.


An excellent example of how circadian rhythm adjusts your biology is, for example, the feeling of tiredness. If our circadian clock is running on time, our bodies should start releasing melatonin, a sleep hormone, an hour before we head to bed. However, if we have, for example, wake up earlier than we usually do for days while still going to bed at the same time, our circadian clock will adjust the release the melatonin. This will, in turn, increase the chance of us going to bed earlier, and getting the amount of sleep our bodies require.

Enough Sleep = Starting Point for Creative Thinking

Now at this point, you‘re’ thinking: cool know I know a lot more about sleep and also understand how creativity is measured, but how does that help me maximize my creativity? The thing is, sleep is so tightly connected to the development and upkeep of our brains, and that way also to creativity, that the answer becomes relatively simple: get enough sleep and get it regularly.


Of course, easier said than done.

But we can start with little things. As mentioned, the circadian rhythm is always adjusting itself according to what we do and what happens us to during the day. Therefore, small changes in our daily life can help improve our circadian rhythm.


For example, reducing the disparity in when you go to sleep during the weekends and when you go sleep during weekdays, called social jetlag, can help us fall asleep in the days following. Scheduling exercises more towards day time and eating lighter meals in the evening helps your body to start preparations for sleeping on time. And for morning sleepiness, getting rid of the snooze button and a cup of coffee might help your body to understand the time of the day when it should start feeling energized.

Further Reading

Interested in learning more about sleep? You might find a book by Matthew Walked, called Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams interesting. It covers the things mentioned here about sleep and more and is easy to read.