Creative insomnia

April 10, 2007

Dear Rodney,

Conventional wisdom says you must get your sleep: next day's
creativity demands it. Repeated tests show that creativity is
one of the first faculties to suffer from sleep disorders and
deprivation. Twenty percent of the population has trouble with
sleep.

Some recent studies of 10- and 12-year-olds in New Zealand
showed that kids who scored high on creativity tests were more
than twice as likely to have sleep problems as their
not-so-creative schoolmates. There's lots of anecdotal evidence
along these lines as well. For creative people young and old,
attacks of imagination can come at any time, day or night.
Sleeplessness may be one of the hazards of the creative mind.
Most creative insomniacs are familiar with the nighttime
"spinning mind" syndrome where dozens of images and half-baked
thoughts flash in and out of consciousness. Unfinished business
in the studio can vie with personal anxieties and deny decent
slumber. Pre-bed exercise, mind-numbing television, yoga,
pills, crosswords, or bedtime reading often have limited
results. Worrying about it only makes it worse.

Some studies suggest fear of sleeplessness itself may be one of
the main causes of sleeplessness. Vital imaginations are often
able to magnify fears in the same way they are able to make
connections and visualize potentials. In my limited experience
it's often, but not always, the dull folks who experience
consistent sleep. Artists, with their heightened sensitivity
and vivid imaginations, have the golden recipe for tossing and
turning. Chronic insomnia, however, can cause depression or be
a result of depression. Sleep disorders need to be examined and
understood.

Getting control of sleeplessness is a tricky wicket. Ideally, a
new plot twist for that novel you're writing or a way to finish
off the painting on your easel would be a benefit--but that and
the other stuff need not keep you awake all night. Comes the
time you must roll over and drift off. Just as the yoga master
masters her own mind, evolved creators learn to channel and
organize nocturnal thoughts. Guiding the mind to go inside the
minutiae of a creative process is not only soporific but
rewarding. But it seems that people with the resource of
fantasy are both blessed and burdened. A notebook on the night
table catches the good stuff for the morrow.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "How in blazes are you going to get a good night's sleep
when you're worried about getting a good night's sleep? For the
hard-of-sleeping, it's sometimes a tossup as to which is
heavier--the pressure to sleep well or the pressure to do well
in the activity being slept for."  (Dennis Drabelle,
correspondent for the Washington Post and self-confessed
insomniac)

Esoterica: In the early morning hours I sometimes find myself
hopelessly awake, my mind spinning, yet still in need of more
sleep. My solution is my own unpatented invention that might
not work for everybody. I tell myself that I have enough ideas
for now and go down to the kitchen and get my somnambula cup.
It's specially designed with a wide bottom and the mantra
"mimim" incised on it. I make myself a hot chocolate using lots
of cream and get it super hot in the micro. I prop myself up in
bed, put the cup on my chest where it radiates heat throughout
my body, and sip while meditating on mimim back and forth (both
ways) while feeling the word in the dark. After a few minutes
I'm off to Morpheus, no worse for wear. I think it's mostly the
heat, the chocolate, and the cream. I've given versions of my
special, handmade cup to creative, sleep-challenged members of
my family, some of whom are starting to look at me in a
peculiar way.