Creativity through Sleep Deprivation

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Have you ever tried to write a paper in college only to be stumped about what to write about, and then three in the morning, hours before it’s due, have a creative spark of genius?

It is a widely accepted fact that sleep is quite important for proper cognitive functioning, retention of memory, concentration, and alertness. Recent research suggests, however, that sleep (more specifically, the lack of) may tickle your creative bone.

In 2012, a study by scientists, led by Mareike Wieth, at Albion College, aimed to observe the circadian habits of 428 students. They were asked about their sleeping habits, and whether they did most of their work in the morning or evening. The vast majority of students surveyed answered that they were very much more productive when the sun went down. Many of them didn’t start doing college papers until late at night when they felt their “brain finally kicking in.” Similarly, the scientists also noted that this is why most of the surveyed undergrads and so many students everywhere around the world felt so negatively about their 8 a.m. classes.

The students were also split in half and given a set of problems to solve. The first set of problems was creative insight puzzles, in which the answer just dawns on you suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere.

An example of one would be:
A man has married 10 women in a small town. All of the women are still alive and none of them are divorced. The man has broken no laws. How is this possible?

(Answer: Priest)

These problems, along with a set of normal analytic problems, like algebra, were given to the students to solve. Half of them were tested at 8:30 a.m. in the morning, and the other half were tested late afternoon at 5.pm. The results were in line with initial predictions. Although the performance in the analytical section of the test showed little to no difference between the two sets of students, the results showed that the set that took the test in the afternoon were up to 50% more effective in their performance on the insight puzzles.

The lesson learned from those sleepy students is that the inability to focus actually allows them to form more free associations that are usually overlooked. Quite similar to how sometimes (not often), the things our drunk friends say make sense all of the sudden. And although in drowsiness and disorganization, our brains might not work like a well-oiled engine, it will still drive like a 4×4 – on and off-road.

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