Sleep is a huge factor in our ability to be creative and come up with new ideas. Recently, there has been more research about how sleep affects our brains. This episode explores the effects of sleep on our creativity. Learn how you can get more sleep and how to support your teams to get more sleep and function at an even higher and more creative level.
What You’ll Learn
- Why you and your team need more sleep
- Six ways you can improve your sleep
- How you might be preventing your team members from getting the sleep they need to perform their best
- Climer Cards
- Free Climer Cards eBook
- How to set Do Not Disturb on your iPhone
- How to set Do Not Disturb on your Android
- Flux for Mac
- Article: Creativity – The Unconscious Foundations of the Incubation Period
- The Model Health Show Podcast Episode 147: 10 Ways Sleep Can Give You a Better Brain
The Weekly Challenge
Feel like reading instead of listening? Download the free transcript or read it below. Enjoy!
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Transcript for Episode #059: How Sleep Affects Creativity
Amy Climer: Welcome to The Deliberate Creative Podcast Episode 59: How Sleep Affects Creativity. I am so glad you are joining me today. This podcast is all about how to build your team to be more innovative and more creative. Today we are going to talk about sleep, which is a big factor in our ability to be creative both to come up with new ideas and to implement those new ideas well.
There has been a lot of research recently about sleep and the impact of sleep on our brains. We are learning more and more with the explosion of brain science and we are starting to understand how important sleep is for us to be highly functional in the world. We can function with a low level of sleep. We have all done it probably, the time where you got four hours of sleep and you still made it through the day and everything was fine, sort of. When we do that on a regular basis, our bodies and our brains do not operate as well. It is not a good thing. I am going to talk a little bit about what happens in your brain when you are sleeping.
The purpose of sleep is to help our bodies repair — both our brains and our bodies, our brain being part of our body — is to help our body repair and to rebuild and generate the things that we use throughout the day. One example of that is sleeping helps us build myelin. Myelin is the sheaths around nerve fibers. We need those myelin sheaths to make connections and the more myelin, the faster the connections are, and if you think about those neuro-connections in your brain, that is where creativity comes from. Often, creativity is about connecting one idea to another idea and that process is solidified during sleep when more myelin is build. What happens in sleep is that our genes get turned on that plays the part in creating the myelin. And our memories fire faster, we become more alert, we are more able to make those obscure connections.
In fact, there is a creativity exercise that I often do during the ideation session. It is designed to make those unusual connections. I will either make a list of all sorts objects seemingly unrelated to the specific task. And so that can just be a list on the wall including words like clock, billboard, computer screen, orangutan, this list of things. And then you think about how do any of these items connect to the challenge that we are looking at.
Another great tool to use for that same technique is Climer Cards. They are a deck of cards about the size of playing cards that I have designed. There are images on there that help you create connections. There are all sorts of activities that you can use with them and this is one of them. Lay out the deck of cards and think about what inspiration can I get from the cards? How do these objects or these images, how might they generate some new ideas? What ideas might I get from these images? And when we are well rested, we are more alert, our neurons and our brain can connect faster and we can come up with those creative ideas. So that is an example of one thing that is happening in our brain at night, is our neurons are repairing and we can be smarter and faster the next day.
Climer Cards: Useful for generating new ideas. Get a deck at climercards.com
But in order to do that, we really need seven to nine hours of sleep. It is going to vary person to person. I know that for me I need eight hours of sleep. One of the ways that I know that is because sometimes when I go to bed, if I do not set my alarm clock, I have gone through these periods of time where I will wake up eight hours later almost to the minute. It has been a little bizarre where I look at the clock, it is 12:01am, I close my eyes and shortly after that I am asleep and I wake up and it is 8:01am the next morning. It is like, “Okay, I guess eight hours is how much sleep I need.” You might experiment with that and see — I do not know if everyone will have the luxury all the time to not have an alarm clock, but just see how much sleep you need. Try seven, eight, nine hours and see which one seems the best for you.
Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t need that much sleep. I am really good with four, five, six hours. I do it all the time.” You can function with that little sleep, absolutely, but you are not functioning at the level that you could. There is this potential within you that is not getting tapped, not getting used because you are not letting your brain and your body sleep as much as it needs to.
Of course, there may be an exception, maybe there are some people that actually really can get by with five, six hours of sleep, but imagine that you had an entire year where you did not work, where you had no commitments and you can sleep as much or as little as you want, how much would you naturally sleep? And I say a year because sometimes it takes a while for us to get into that rhythm. And if you right now are operating at a really intense level, getting very little sleep, it might take a few months for you to recover from that. You have probably heard stories here and there about the person that was working so hard, so intensely getting four hours of sleep at night and something happened; their body just stopped. Something medical came up, they had some sort of breakdown, something, and it can take about a year to recover from something like that. Avoiding getting to that point would be the ideal, but getting that sleep can be really important.
Sometimes people will make the comment like, “oh you can sleep when you are dead,” and yes of course, that is true on one level, but the thing is you will be dead sooner if you do not get enough sleep throughout your life. There is a cost of getting that level of sleep. An example I just shared was very extreme, but I think on a more immediate daily level is that our relationships suffer and that when you are not as rested, you tend to be more irritable, you are more grumpy, and that impacts your relationships both at work and at home.
We also tend to gain weight when we do not sleep as well and our judgment suffers. In fact, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said in an interview that all the major bad decisions that he ever made as president were made because of lack of sleep and that his judgment suffered because he did not have enough sleep and if he had, he may have been able to think a little clear and a little sharper and he would have made a different decision. Without sleep, we make poor decisions. And obviously that is connected to creativity. Creativity is about not only coming up with those ideas, but deciding which ones to actually implement.
I am thinking about a client that I worked with a while ago and they were four men — it happened to be all men — who were on this executive team and I worked with them for quite a while. They were just always tired. I really liked these guys, but I could see where the stress and the intensity of the work was having a negative impact on their work and they were not as able to be open to new ideas. New ideas would come and they would shoot them down quicker because in their head they are thinking through all the things they could not do if we implemented that idea like, “oh no, that is going to take a lot of work” or this or that, whereas if they had been more rested, they would have looked at it in a very different way and they would have been more open. When I think about the people I know who are more open with their teams and they are more interested in those new ideas, they are people who are rested and they are looking at things from that lens of openness and restfulness. If you want to be creative with your teams, get sleep because then you will be more open to their ideas.
I have given you a brief overview of why you might need more sleep, but let’s talk a little bit about okay great, that is all good but how do you actually do that? Because if you are like most people, you have gotten into this rhythm where you are sleeping four, six hours a night and it is hard to just change that instantly. I am going to give you a few tips to help you start getting better and longer sleep.
Tips to Getting Better And Longer Sleep [09:47]
Turn your phone to the Do Not Disturb mode
The first tip actually came from Episode 052, Darcy Luoma shared this tip where she said at a certain point each evening she turned her phone to the Do Not Disturb mode. Actually, I did not realize when I was interviewing her that I actually already had my phone set up that way. I must have done it a really long time ago because I did not remember. But you can schedule this automatically on the phone. What the Do Not Disturb mode means is that you will not get any phone calls, texts, any notifications. Your phone will not buzz. You are still receiving them, of course, and someone can leave a voicemail, but you are not going to notice that text until the next morning, unless of course you look at your phone, but your phone is not going to alert you.
The reason this matters is because using our phone, our devices, our screen, they all have blue light and blue light is something naturally in the sun. We get this every day. Our body is designed as the sun goes down and evening rolls around and we are starting to think about going to bed, our body starts naturally creating melatonin. Melatonin helps us prepare for sleep, fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin makes us sleepy. But what happens is if we are using our devices, that blue light mimics the sun and we actually do not create melatonin and so it is more difficult to naturally fall asleep.
You may be thinking, “Oh, but wait, I can fall asleep watching TV, I do it all the time.” Yeah, you can, but most likely you will not get the long sleep, the eight hours of sleep. You will be more likely to wake up throughout the night and that uninterrupted eight hours is what is so powerful. It takes about 90 minutes for your body to create melatonin. Let’s say you go to bed at 10:00pm, then you might consider starting your Do Not Disturb mode on your phone at around 8:30pm. So you set that up for 8:30pm. If you go to bed at 10:00pm you wake up at 6:00am, so maybe you would set Do Not Disturb from 8:30pm to 6:30am so that you are up for half an hour before your phone starts beeping and buzzing and doing its thing. Or maybe you even want a little longer time, which is fine, but you can set that on your phone and I will put a link in the shownotes for how to set the Do Not Disturb on both the iPhone and the Android. Check that out, it is really easy to do.
The other thing you can do is you can also set it up so that certain people can still call you. So maybe you want to make sure that your parents or your kids or your close friends can still contact you and you can set that up. There are all sorts of different ways you can adjust the Do Not Disturb mode. I highly recommend doing that. It can be really helpful.
Using the Flux app for Mac [12:43]
The other thing you can do with screens is that sometimes there are situations where you need to be on your computer into the evening and you need to be on a screen and you are worried about that blue light. There is an app, it is fairly new, out there called Flux, and I will put a link in the shownotes. It is free and as far as I know it is only available for Macs. I do not know if there is an equivalent out there for PCs. If anybody knows that, shoot me a note and I will add it to the shownotes. But you download Flux onto your Mac and then it slowly over the evening changes the color of your screen so it becomes less and less blue and it actually gets more and more yellow, it kind of mimics light bulbs.
I use this, I have been using this for a long time, I love it. You can really see a difference the way you set it up from say like 7:00pm to 10:00pm and the screen gets more and more yellow. At a certain point, it actually looks pretty funny and it is also a good reminder for like get off the computer. Design your evening so that you are using your screens less and/or if you have to, use something like Flux.
I have also heard there are some special glasses you can wear that filter blue lights. I have never used them, I have just heard of them, but that may be something to explore especially if you do not have a Mac. So those are two things; getting off your phone and off your screens and setting up the Do Not Disturb mode, and the second is using the Flux app if you need to be on your screen.
Having a better space for sleeping [14:16]
The third thing is setting up your physical sleeping space so that it is designed for sleeping and then you can sleep well. The first is to get a good mattress. If you are having pains in the middle of the night, if you are waking up feeling uncomfortable, your back is stiff in the morning, try a new mattress. I would recommend going to a mattress store that allows you to return the mattress if you do not like it. I just had this experience, I just bought a new mattress in the last couple of months and went to three or four stores in town and ended up going to a local store called Colton Mattress, local to Asheville, North Carolina. I was so impressed with this company. After the mattress was delivered, I later realized I did not get the mattress that I wanted. It was a miscommunication with them. And when I look back, I can see where they thought that was the one I wanted.
I got this new mattress, I sleep on it for a couple of days and I call them and tell them, “I hate this mattress.” It was so uncomfortable. And their response was, “Yeah, no big deal. We’ll fix it for you.” It was so easy. I was blown away. To me buying a mattress is a big risk because you are spending a lot of money on it and testing it in the store for ten minutes is only so helpful. How can you tell? See if you can get yourself a new mattress and buy it from a place that will allow you to exchange it and get the one that you really want. And most places I think will do that nowadays.
If you live in a place where there is a lot of lights around you, get some darker curtains. Get some curtains that will block out that light so you are having a better space for sleeping. I personally, I do not like super dark curtains because I really appreciate the light coming in in the morning, but I happen to also live in a place that does not have a lot of street lights right around me. Figure out what you need and think about some other things like do you need a new pillow, having some water by your bed, whatever you need. Set your space up so you can sleep well.
Not sleeping next to your phone [16:29]
Do not sleep next to your phone. Put your phone in the other room. I always plug my phone in my office which is down the hall if I need to jump up and either answer the phone in the middle of the night that is an emergency from a family member, it is not a big deal. A couple of nights ago, I do not know what I was thinking, but I got in bed, I had my phone with me and I was goofing around on Facebook for about an hour, which is not typical of me so I am not sure what prompted me to do this. I finally put my phone down and went to sleep and I had one of the worst sleeps that I have had in a long time. I ended up getting up about an hour and a half later because I could not sleep and I went to the couch and I started reading a book, just to help my mind relax and calm down a little bit. There was something about just being on Facebook for that hour I was in bed and it was weird. I felt like I was on a caffeine high or something, even though I had not had caffeine for 15 hours. But anyway, avoiding the phones and setting your space up to really sleep well is important.
Setting an alarm to remind you to get ready for bed [17:43]
The next thing that I find helpful is setting an alarm to remind you to get ready for bed. Let’s say that you decide okay, I need to get up at 6:00am, I want to try to get eight hours of sleep at night so I am going to be in bed by 10:00pm and really you want to think about being asleep by 10:00pm. What time do you need to be in bed? Do you want to get in bed around 9:45pm, 9:30pm? Just figuring out what you need. Maybe you want to read for a few minutes in bed, which there is probably some mixed reviews about doing that, but sometimes I find that helpful. Setting an alarm to remind you to get ready for bed.
So maybe 15 or 30 minutes ahead of time depending on what you need to do to get ready for bed and setting that alarm to just say like, “Hey, time to go put on your pajamas, brush your teeth,” may help you with that transition. Because if you are like me, it is easy to just keep doing whatever you are doing and the next thing you know you are like, “Oh shoot it’s 11:00pm, I need to go to bed.” Figure that out, set up that alarm.
I think in some ways I learned this when I was a kid where we did not have an alarm but we definitely had a bedtime and we were only allowed to watch TV if we were completely ready for bed and in bed at our bedtime. Let’s say our bedtime was at 9:00pm, then we could only watch the TV shows from 8:00pm to 9:00pm if we are ready and in bed by 9:00pm. What we would do is at every commercial we would run to the back of the house and we would brush our teeth and then we would come out and the next commercial we would go back and we would put on our pajamas. It really taught me to use those couple of minutes at a time so that when it does come time for bed you are ready to go. Set an alarm if you need to.
How to Help Your Team Be More Creative [19:29]
So those are some things that you can personally do at home to help you sleep better. But I also want to talk about what you can do at work with your team. So much of this podcast is about how do you help your team be more creative. Think about what you do in the evening and what expectations you have of your team members in the evening and how might that negatively be impacting their sleep and their evening, which then in turn is impacting their performance at work.
Let’s say you supervise a team. In the evening from about 7:00pm to 8:00pm or so maybe you work for an hour. If you are sending your team emails and you are expecting them to respond to them by the next morning, that may have a negative impact on their sleep. Sometimes you might not even say that that is an expectation, but there is this unwritten or a perceived expectation that they need to respond to your emails within a few hours, which means before they come into work the next day.
Now, you might be thinking, “Well, but that’s when I work well. I like to do that one hour at night. It’s a quiet place, I can work well from home.” Cool. I am not saying do not write those emails, I am saying do not send them to your team then. One thing that I do on planes a lot when I do not connect to the Wi-Fi is I write emails in an app like Evernote and then when I get off the plane, I will cut and paste them and actually send them out. That is something that you could do. You could cut and paste those emails, send them out in the morning.
It is still like a little bit of work, maybe even a better idea, especially if you use Gmail is you can use Boomerang. Boomerang is a free app that allows you to write an email and then send it whenever you want. I use this all the time. I will write an email in the evening and I will have it set to send out the next morning if I do not want that person to get it in the evening. There are some other cool features of Boomerang. It is free up to a certain amount. I just use the free version, but there is a fee version if you want to send more emails per month than they allow. I will put a link to that app in the shownotes as well. Think about, again, the expectation and the kind of environment that you are creating at work.
I would also suggest to talk about sleep with your colleagues. You might even set up a challenge, a sleep challenge such as, who is getting at least eight hours of sleep at night or at least seven hours of sleep at night, and start tracking it and try to really set up an environment where you are encouraging people to get sleep. Where it becomes a cool thing to do. And if you were like me and you look at what are successful people doing, like what are other CEOs are doing and how is it that they get to that level, how is it that they perform at that level, most of them get enough sleep. People cannot sustain performance without getting enough sleep. If you want your team to perform well, if you want them to be more creative, they need to get enough sleep. So do you.
The other thing I want to mention about sleep and creativity is this idea of incubation. I have mentioned on previous episodes how I have used sleep and that incubation period to help me generate creative ideas where I will either use that time right as I am falling asleep or right as I am waking up where I will just allow my brain to do its thing at night. And I so often will have creative ideas because I have given my brain time to incubate and to just do its unconscious thing. I do even know what it is doing, but boom! A day or two later I have a good idea for that challenge. Again, that is not going to happen if you do not have seven to nine hours of sleep. And it is that deep REM sleep that we need. Those are some tips on both how sleep affects creativity and then specifically how you can get more sleep and how you can set your team up to get more sleep.
The Weekly Challenge [23:48]
Your weekly challenge this week is to get more sleep! Do one of these ideas that I suggested. See if you can at least do a few of them, you might not be able to do all of them right away, certainly buying a new mattress may be a little tough to do this week, but see if you can do a few of those this week and see how it impacts you. Try it more than once. I would say at least try it five nights in a row and see what happens. Can you get a full night sleep five nights in a row and pay attention to how that impacts you? You might even tell your colleagues or your family members that you are doing this and see if they notice a change and ask them after a few days if they have noticed any difference in you.
All right y’all, I hope this was helpful. That wraps up the sleep portion of the podcast, at least everything I have to say right now. I want to share a couple of things with you. First, thank you so much for listening to the podcast. I see the stats online each week of how many people are listening and it is so awesome. And for those of you who have reached out to me and told me how helpful it is, it is so cool to hear how the podcast is helping you be more creative and be a better leader with your teams.
If you want to show some love back this way, I would love for you to put a review on iTunes or Google Play, whichever you prefer. You can go there and it just takes a couple of minutes, share a review. It helps the podcast get more listeners, it gets more exposure that way and it helps people decide if it is a good podcast for them, a good fit for them. You can also subscribe while you are there, in iTunes or Google Play and then you will get the podcast every other week, which is the other change I want to tell you about.
The podcast used to be every week and I have made a change, it has now gone to every other week and those alternate weeks I have started writing blog posts. You can find those on my website at www.climerconsulting.com and just click on the little link that says Podcast and Blog and you will see all the episodes and posts there. If you go to www.climerconsulting.com/059, that is this episode, you will be able to find all the links that I mentioned, the research and the resources that I mentioned in this episode. Go check that out. You can also follow me on social media; I am on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, so follow me on your favorite platforms. I put notes of when the episodes are out, I share research, articles, thoughts, advice, comments, so I would love to engage with you in those venues if that is something you enjoy.
If you are interested in talking with me about working with your team or your organization to help your team be more creative, let me know. Shoot me an email. I would love to talk to you about that. That is what I do. In fact, when this podcast comes out, I would have just gotten back from doing a program in the Virgin Islands. I am happy to travel and I love working with people all over the world. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful creative week and I will see you next time. Bye.
Amy Climer is a consultant, coach, and speaker who teaches teams how to be innovative. She hosts The Deliberate Creative, a podcast and blog designed to teach others how to facilitate innovation in teams. She designed Climer Cards, a creativity and teambuilding tool used by thousands to deepen team conversations and generate ideas. She has a PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University. Learn more at climerconsulting.com.
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