Thanks to the potent combination of Hollywood celebrities’ weird schedules and high powered tech darlings’ late night tweets, sleep—or our lack of it—is in the news. For a sleep deprived culture, we’re certainly fascinated by that elusive nighttime respite. From products like sleep masks, weighted blankets and herbal teas to concepts like sleep hygiene and sleep debt, we can’t get enough tips and tricks about how to get enough rest.
It wasn’t very long ago that we believed we could bio-hack our way out of sleeping, by restructuring our sleep in order to only need a fraction: cut away the chaff, grab only the good stuff. For all our attempts, it doesn’t seem our biology works that way.
Thanks to indoor lighting, we’ve actually already restructured our sleep in the past 150 years. Researchers have theorized we used to sleep much differently, hitting the sack not long after sunset, only to wake up around midnight for a few hours, then settling in for another small sleep (or second sleep) until sunrise. That midnight wakening could be used for a snack, creative endeavours, sex, reading or even social time with neighbours (which I still find weird).
Some people have even tried returning to this split sleep cycle as a way of boosting their creativity or overcoming burnout. To a certain degree, insomnia or sleep deprivation can be a powerful catalyst for creative thought, mostly (it’s theorized) because that pesky inner critic is not at it’s functioning best. Loopy on mental exhaustion, we just don’t apply the breaks in the same way we do when it’s not the witching hour and we’re not tired. But days of insomnia pray on creativity too, making the mind too dull and sapping all our energy.
After all sleep is how our brains and our bodies repair themselves and how we consolidate memories, for possible later creative inspiration. In our always on lives, getting enough zzz’s can be challenging. So if burning the midnight oil isn’t birthing brilliant ideas, it may be time to turn off the light. Everything will still be waiting for us when we wake up in the morning, when everything looks a little bit brighter.