What You Learn From an Intimate Relationship With Insomnia
To say that I’m a night owl would be an understatement.
I love sleep. It’s an amazing feeling really, especially when you’re genuinely tired. You know exactly what I mean, dear reader. There’s that tired that’s like “I should probably go to bed…” but you end up surfing the internet or Reddit on your phone for roughly half an hour (or a few hours, give or take) before you actually manage to fall asleep.
That’s not the tired I’m talking about here.
The tired I’m talking about is the type that usually accompanies one of two thoughts. They are as follows:
- “I’m just gonna rest my eyes for a few minutes”
- “zombie like moaning”
Both accompany the same result: your head hits the pillow and you get KO’d so hard it’s as if the sand man decided to throw on the boxing gloves and call upon the spirit of Floyd “Money” Mayweather before deciding to send you off to dream land.
And as wonderful as this type of sleep is, it eludes me far more often than I’d honestly like. Even as I write this, at nearly 2AM with a buzz that would make Tyrion Lannister jealous, I know sleep won’t come to me for another hour at least. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s in my blood, maybe it’s in my habits, but the insomnia I experience isn’t something I’d necessarily consider a burden.
See, you learn a couple of things when you’ve struggled with insomnia for as long as I have. Some of them may surprise you.
Sleepiness and Heightened Creativity
The brain is a funny thing. You would think that alertness and clarity would lead to a heightened state of creativity, but there’s some research that would suggest otherwise.
You see, when you’re tired, your brain has a harder time filtering out distractions and staying focused on a particular task. It’s also much less efficient at remembering connections between ideas or concepts. Now, I know what you must be thinking. “Justin… that doesn’t make any sense and sounds stupid. Stop sounding stupid” and to that I say rude, but I also say it’s not as crazy as it might sound.
This is because creative work almost always involves thinking outside the box. At moments where we’re more susceptible to distraction and a bit less focused, we’re at the same time open to a broader spectrum of information and our ability to access it. This extended perspective can lead to alternatives we might not have otherwise thought about and strokes of insight that lead to more diverse interpretations, potentially opening us up to further innovation and greater insight.
One thing I notice when I stay up late is that I want to accomplish all of my goals right now.
You know what I’m talking about. You start thinking about how tomorrow you’re gonna do all of these things and it’s gonna be awesome and you’re just gonna get that much closer to your dreams coming true.
Why do you think that is?
When we drink alcohol, there’s a sweet spot that allows us to release quite a lot of inhibition. We live less in our heads and more in our bodies, and start feeling a bit more comfortable about being in our own skin. We start thinking less and doing more, which can be a huge benefit to doing creative work.
What tends to stop us is over thinking. We come up with ideas only to think of all the ways they could go wrong, resulting in a lack of execution and, as a consequence, a lack of results. When you have insomnia, this process is much more muted and it can allow you to become far more action oriented than you normally might be.
Now this isn’t me suggesting you start sleeping less and drinking more. Sleep is good for you, alcohol usually is not (a little bit of a buzz now and then doesn’t hurt too much though). If you sleep regularly and tend to enjoy being sober, continue enjoying those things because they’re both good for you.
I wrote this article to give those who suffer from insomnia (as many creatives do) a possible advantage. Insomnia is a tough thing to turn off, especially considering some of us might literally be hardwired to have a disposition towards staying up later and because of this, we need to find a way to adapt. Finding ways to turn strengths into weaknesses is key to succeeding in life, and this is no exception.
So, if you tend to stay up late, rejoice, because you might just be that much more creative. Even so, try to get some sleep, because a little bit of it now and again certainly never hurt anybody.