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Golden Slumbers

The creative perks to a good night’s sleep.

I’m finishing my coffee. I’m entertaining a second cup. I’m procrastinating. Last night I texted a to-do list to myself but I’m having trouble getting started.

I was looking forward to some of those entries — especially working on that new song. That’s never really “work” anyway but I just can’t concentrate.

I click on the lyric. I consider the font. But I can’t go any further than that. It’s strange because I’m usually pretty sharp in the morning. It’s my most creative time of day — when a brain full of clutter hasn’t accumulated … yet.

By afternoon, nothing’s changed. Whatever it is I do manage to get done, I’m not doing well. I run a stop sign. I can’t do simple addition, follow a recipe. Why did I come into this room anyway?

I’m paranoid that my low-function is a sign of something serious. I take a few deep breaths and then I recall: Ya know, Shelly, you went to bed at 2 a.m. last night, didn’t you? Woke up at 6. Hmm. That’s definitely not enough shut down. Of course! My batteries are drained.

You know what I’m talking about. Getting a good night’s sleep can mean the difference between playing your A-game and not playing a game at all. Sure, you can force yourself to finish that song but you’re supposed to enjoy being creative. It’s not supposed to be torture.

A well-rested mind and body affects creativity. I don’t say this as an expert who studies the science behind this statement but as a creator who’s witnessed the correlation over the years.

Many of us believe we’ll be more productive if we have more awake time but that’s not necessarily true. In fact, we often have to sleep more because apparently we get a lot accomplished while under the covers.

Paul McCartney came up with “Yesterday” in a dream (even if it was originally titled “Scrambled Eggs”) and Keith Richards heard the riff to “Satisfaction” while in repose. I’d say those are two great reasons to take a nap.

Maybe they were in a state of hypnagogia — the dreamlike transition between waking and sleep that allows the mind to wander. During this state, our brains take involuntary detours that lead us to locate missing pieces to puzzles we might not have the freedom to find when we’re conscious. In other words, our dreams make connections between things we might never connect while we’re awake. What’s more, concentrating on a specific problem (i.e., the sum-up line at the end of a song hook) right before going to bed can trigger the unconscious mind to try and solve it during sleep.

Wow. Yawn! Where are my PJs?

I know that I’m at my best at sunrise because of the proximity to recent sleep. That said, some of us are night owls. Our own personal windows of energy depend on our unique circadian rhythm — a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness and affects our ability to function at our highest level. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day regulates us. But no matter the rhythm, as long as we put in the hours we’re not going to feel the ebbs and flows as deeply.

I’ve heard this all before. But it’s days like these, when I’m staring at the bottom of my coffee cup wondering why I can’t get started, that I remember to remember: When your song remains unfinished and you’re sure you don’t have the right stuff — that you’re a fake, a fluke, a phony, that you simply get lucky from time to time — don’t panic! Give yourself a break and do something else that doesn’t require cognitive acuity.

It’s getting late, so once again I’ll trust in the well-tested notion that, with a lavender pillow on my eyes (so the first morning light doesn’t rob me of an extra crucial hour) and those squishy little puffs in my ears, tonight I’ll have another chance to fall into that beautiful necessary disconnect and wake up eight hours later, rejuvenated and hopefully feeling like a brand new me.

Shelly Peiken laying face up in bed wearing a floral eye mask.
Photo courtesy of the author.


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