Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sleep, creativity and culture

Note: The following is a brain dump of what I currently understand and what I'm trying to understand.

I've been thinking a lot about time recently and how we're dominated by the clock. It controls every aspect of our lives, even during sleep. The following are my thoughts based on information that I've read and my own life experiences.

Due to the pressure of modern life, most of us function with less than the recommended eight hours. This is mainly because of our culture. The dominant work culture frowns on sleep, especially around the topic of entrepreneurship and leadership. Sleep is for the weak. There's time for sleep when you're dead. These are just some of the phrases that are indicative of that culture. There's an increasing amount of information about why we should get more sleep and we know that we should but we don't.

Sleep is extremely important for our overall health and especially for our brains. During sleep the brain basically reorganizes itself, choosing which connections to make and what to discard. Sleep also improves our creativity. It's also been shown that one of the times we're most creative is when we're sleepy. This is because you tend to make more connections between disparate thoughts at this time. To harness this creativity it's recommended that we ease into our day, not rush out the door. For example, I spend the first 15 minutes after I wake up just mulling over what ever comes to mind. I also take a leisurely walk to the station each morning in which I do the same thing. Those times are when I tend to have some of my most creative thoughts and I'm not a morning person.

Perhaps our sleep cycle is a result of our modern lifestyles. I've been reading a few articles recently which have found that eight hours of straight sleep isn't necessarily our natural sleep cycle. It appears that information is coming to light that historically humans would sleep in two parts. We would enter what has been called first sleep, or little sleep, wake up for a few hours and then enter a second deeper sleep. The single eight hour sleep cycle appears to have been a relatively recent occurrence in the grand scheme of things. This might account for people who often wake up in the middle of the night for several hours. Unfortunately because we are dominated by the clock this time awake. It also matches the sleep cycle of some children with autism. My son for instance will wake for several hours a few nights a week. He'll generally be content to quietly play or talk to himself for a few hours (though that wasn't always the case), before returning to sleep.

Waking up in the middle of the night can cause undue stress for some. We worry about not having enough sleep for work the next day which decreases the likelihood of getting back to sleep. This worry is caused by the the work culture I mentioned above and our lives being dominated by the clock.

So why do we stress about when we get into work? This is something I've never really understood for knowledge workers. If you have a meeting then it's a sign of respect to the other participants that you be there on time. Being late sends an implicit message that your time is more important than other peoples. Getting into work at some arbitrary time which doesn't seem to add any value and causes stress. If I've had a bad night sleep isn't it better for the company that I get in later so that I can perform better? Being exhausted at work does no one any good. We're all adults and should be trusted to put in the hours the company requires of us without having to stress when you're arriving or leaving. How many times have you sat at work at the end of the day, but you're too tired to do anything, especially late in the week? What happens is that people make themselves look busy. Wouldn't it be better for that person just to head home early and recharge?

Another idea is for companies to let people nap during the day. Several studies have shown that taking a nap, where you achieve a deep sleep, improves creativity.

All of the above mainly applies to people in creative jobs. We tend to need large blocks of time to concentrate and achieve flow. This is different from managers who generally work in smaller hour blocks. Getting these large blocks of time might require being on a different schedule from managers. For example, working late in the evening because there are less distractions.

We need to change our work culture and habits to help improve the creativity of knowledge workers rather than ruling by the clock.

What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment