How has your weekend been? Hope you ready for another long read on the Pineapple Blog. Following on from last week’s topic of boredom and its impact on creativity, I wanted to talk about sleep and creativity this week. I have just finished Matthew Walker’s “Why Do We Sleep?” [not an ad] and I highly recommend this book; it is filled with eye-opening information backed by scientific facts and experiments. I had a lot of “oh that’s why!” moments when reading the book.
I am continuing the theme of creativity as I am on a journey to try and find more ways to use the other side of my brain. Working in finance with numbers and analysis, I am noticing more and more how my job lacks creativity. Since I have started writing this blog it has made me realised how creativity is very important to me and brings a lot of positivity.
There are two distinct parts to sleep: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (“NREM”) and Rapid Eye Movement (“REM”). This can be then further broken down to several stages of NREM before entering REM, making the sleep cycle as follows:
- Stage 1 NREM sleep is when we change from wakefulness to sleep. This stage only lasts several minutes and it is light sleep where your breathing and heartbeat slows and muscles relax
- Stage 2 NREM sleep moves us from light sleep to deep sleep. Body temperature decrease and eye movement also stop (hence, NREM).
- Stage 3 NREM sleep is the deep sleep that ensures that we feel refreshed in the morning. It occurs more in the in the first half of the night. This is the time where it is very difficult to wake you.
- REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after you have fallen asleep. Your eye movements begin to rapidly move side to side (hence, REM). Breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels. This is where dreaming and creativity occurs. Your limbs are paralysed so you don’t act out your dreams.
Recently, I have purchased the Fitbit Charge 3 (again, not an ad, but it is pretty cool!) and wear it whilst I sleep so that it is able to track/guestimate my sleep cycles. Got to love a bit of data! Unfortunately, this week I have only been averaging around 6 hours of sleep which is not enough, but below was Friday’s night sleep cycle, starting at 11pm. You can see my first bit of REM (4 mins 30 secs worth) at exactly 12:30! Totally geeking out about it 🙂
REM Sleep & Creativity
For today, I wanted to focus on REM and its impact on creativity. During NREM sleep research has shown that memories captured by the hippocampus are replayed during NREM sleep, and as we detect similarities between them, that information gets stored in the cortex. During this stage, both parts of the brain communicate with each other and are in sync. The hippocampus prefers to replay things that are similar or thematically linked, it encourages us to find those links and use them to form schemas or organizing frameworks. This is why NREM sleep is associated with consolidating and strengthening memories.
REM sleep, on the other hand, the hippocampus and cortex do not seem to be in sync. As a result, the cortex is now free to replay stored memories in any combination, regardless of whether they are similar. By doing this the brain is able to make different connections, and may not be linked at all (essentially, thinking outside the box). The brain is able to blend together abstract thoughts in novel ways.
Benefits of REM Sleep
Many have described how dreams inspired them, such as Paul McCartney’s story of how his hit song “Yesterday” came to him in a dream or of Mendeleev’s dream-inspired construction of the periodic table of elements. Otto Loewi design of a simple experiment, supposedly by dreaming. He eventually proved something he had long hypothesized: Nerve cells communicate by exchanging chemicals, or neurotransmitters. This, in turn, resulted in him winning the Nobel prize. As alluded to above, REM sleep is beneficial for the following reasons:
- REM sleep assists in abstract problem-solving, so if you are stuck on a problem, get some sleep! It has been found that if one is dreaming of a “problem” it is more likely that you will be able to find a solution to it after your dream because the brain is able to cherry-pick fragments of your current problem/learning experience and attempt to place it within your memory bank from past experiences. The age-old advice to “sleep on it” seems to have some merit.
- Closely related to the first point, REM sleeps helps with pattern recognition which is beneficial to the creative process.
- REM helps with creativity, researchers found that participants scored 40% better on a creativity test after REM sleep. Matthew Walker also found in his experiment that when we woke up participants during REM sleep, they were able to solve 15-35 per cent more puzzles than when they were awake. Scientists have also developed objective tests that allow them to measure people’s creativity – notably their ability to form abstract connections and solve complex problems with creative solutions.
Time to sleep
After reading Matthew Walker’s book, I have realised the importance of sleep. This has been talked about by others too (see video). Given its importance, I think we should all consider incorporating time to wind down and give yourself a good night’s sleep. I definitely do not need to be told twice to jump into bed!
For those that struggle with sleep, here are a few tips recommended by Matthew that might help:
- Make sure your room is dark and that you are not looking at bright light sources i.e. your phone around 1 to 2 hours before you sleep. This also links back to my previous post, don’t reach for the tech to fill in time when you’re bored, in this case, particularly around bedtime. You may want to also dim your lights around the house in earlier parts of the evening to stimulate sleepiness.
- Have a set routine – go to bed and wake up around the same time. Currently, I am trying to be in bed by 10:30pm for shut-eye at 11pm so that I am up for 6am for work and the weekend.
- Keep the temperature cool in the house at night. This is because your body temperature needs to drop at night to sleep.
- If you have trouble falling asleep or wake in the night feeling restless, don’t stay in bed awake. Get up and read in another room (don’t stare at a screen!), when you start nodding off, then go back to bed.
- Don’t have caffeine late in the day or an alcohol-infused nightcap as these will interfere with sleep!
I hope you all enjoyed this blog post, maybe it even sent you off to sleep – I am not offended at all! I wish for all my readers sound sleep to stimulate creativity and positivity. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and I hope you all have an awesome start to the week.
With Sweet & Sour Love,
Pineapple Chicken x