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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Grand Sleep Experiment

I've never been one who has had a normal sleep pattern. I'm very nocturnal by nature and prefer late nights. I've been like this since my teens. as an adult in my 30's I worked third shift for a hotel for years, further reinforcing this night habit.

Quite a few years back I read about a Japanese scientist who had a strict regiment of two hours of sleep every eight hours and said it enhanced his abilities, gave him more time to work and felt more refreshing than a typical 8 hour sleep pattern each night. I've also read stories of people such as Edison and Gandhi who both were fanatical about not wasting time sleeping. In fact Gandhi was noted for saying that sleep was death and waking was reincarnation each day.

Health experts say that this is not good for the body, that we are meant to sleep our eight hours and that we will go into sleep deprivation if we don't get at least that much rest daily. This is especially true for children and teens and there is even a movement to get school hours changed to not make kids wake so early because its not healthy for them.

I can see the arguments for all these arguments, but what I've not seen is any concrete studies of how sleep effects creativity. I do know from personal experience that my creativity ebbs severely when I get too tired. I also get very depressed.

I was discussing this with my partner awhile back and I expressed my feelings that I felt like I was wasting time sleeping for a major amount of time and that I felt often more sluggish and worn out after eight hours than I did after taking a short nap. I mentioned that if I could get away from the social stigma of a strange sleep habit that I'd love to try varying my sleep patterns and see how it effected me personally and my work.

In his usual precise style of getting straight to the point my partner said "why don't you? When is there a better time?" He was right of course. Because of having been ill I pretty much stay close to home and my studio is right next to that home. We both work from home as artists. He was right, if there was ever a time to play around with sleep experiments, the time was now.

With that in mind, I made a simple lifestyle change. In the past, when sleeping, I would typically sleep 3 or 4 hours then wake up and lay in bed, read for a few and force myself back to sleep. Instead, I made one small change. When my body and mind woke back up, I got up again.

The first few days were difficult, I was off rhythm and I could feel it physically and mentally, but like all new things I felt there was a period of adjustment that needed to be overcome and that if it went on for too long, I could return to my old habits without much trouble.

My biggest concern  was  my creative level. I function at a very high level of creativity when I work. I've developed some great mental habits that allow me to maximize my creative process and get some pretty good results from it. I made a bargain with myself that if I felt it was effecting my creative level or my mental state that I would stop.

Instead, I found an interesting habit began to evolve. I was good for about 9-10 hours of quality wakefulness. After that amount of time, my physical and mental state began to degrade. I tired quickly and became creatively sluggish. I would cease operations, close up the studio and go to bed. I slept hard most times but it only lasted about 3 hours on average then I would wake back up feeling refreshed again for another 9 or 10 hours.

After that initial 3 or 4 days of adjustment, I seemed to settle into a nice pattern of 3 hours down and 10 hours up with no notable signs of creative loss or depression. In fact I think compared to my old sleep pattern where I would push myself 12-15 hours a day then sleep, that its been a very positive change.

Now I know that circumstances, recent illness and partner who has encouraged me rather discouraged me have allowed this to happen and that most are NOT in a position to even attempt it. Most have to live in the real world and that world doesn't allow for this kind of pattern. But I've never been one who is much for living in the real world. I've seen changes in my partners sleep habits also, falling more into sync with mine. He sleeps a bit longer than I do by about 2 hours but the same general pattern is emerging for him also.

I figure I may revert back to something more of the norm later, but so far I am finding this experiment to be successful. When I see my doctor in December I plan to let him know about it though and get his medical opinion about it. Since I will be 3 months or so into it by that time, I should have a pretty good understanding of how it is effecting me overall. But I can say it has been great for my creative levels. I am not seeing any degradation in my abilities to create and I am still getting a huge amount accomplished. In fact I think I am probably getting more done. Not because I am working more hours than before, but because I now have several creative peaks in a 24 hours period rather than just one per day.

If I am fighting anything, its the societal stigmas. The people who say "what are you doing asleep at 5 in the afternoon?????" or "why are you awake at 4 in the morning????" That becomes irritating after awhile and so few understand that neither of us is being lazy, but that we don't always follow the rules of society.

My guess is, that as we evolve into a 24 hour culture, that this will eventually change. Already some corporations are realizing the potential of not limiting their employees to a 9-5 work schedule and more and more flexibility is being created. I guess we'll see what the next 20 years brings to our evolving world.

In Spirit and Creativity,

Grey's Creative Space
Update 04-08-15

Its been an interesting several months sleep wise. I cannot say we have reverted back to anything resembling normal, but we have found an equilibrium for our bodies. It seems that the best sleep period (at least for me) is from 5am to noon. I seem to wake up the freshest then and ready to tackle the day. It gives me both daylight hours to do errands but most of the night to do creative work.

Sometimes it is difficult to maintain that. If we want to run morning errands its not unusual to still stay awake until 8am and then get to sleep around 10 or 11am. This throws us off a bit and it usually takes 2 days to get back to base morning hours sleep.

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