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Key to Unlocking Creativity: Sleep

What you should know about sleep to boost your creativity

A couple of weeks ago Luova Aalto organized an event about the interplay of sleep and creativity, lead by the wonderful Anu-Katriina Pesonen, a professor of clinical and developmental psychology from the University of Helsinki. Here are the key takeaways of that highly informative workshop.

First: What is Creativity?

“Come up with different usages for a brick”

Everyone has some kind of an 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 the recent years), and have for example drawn 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 in order to measure your creativity, you could just 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](, which measures four things: fluency, the total number of solutions generated; flexibility, number 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 understand 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 larger 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 factor to our health and wellbeing, affecting everything from our cognition to how well we burn fat.

So in order 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 in accordance with solar time, meaning the in runs the same time as our 24-hour clock.

A good 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 a period of 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 adjust 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 actually help your body to understand the time of the day when it should start feeling energized.

Further Reading

Interested in learning more about sleep? First, to help you better understand your circadian rhythm, Anu is currently developing a new service for that set to launch in early 2019. More about that here.

Second, 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 really easy to read.