8 ways to get more sleep and boost your creativity

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Improving your sleep is the best way to become more creative, productive and happier. So it’s time you prioritised it, and we have some fantastic tips from fellow creatives to help you do so.

Sometimes, it seems like the unattainable Holy Grail. How, you wonder, can I become more creative, more imaginative, and more productive? How can I develop better ideas to propel my career to the next level? How can I impress people, get my work noticed, and boost the amount of money I earn? Well, for many of us, the answer is staring us in the face, but we just don’t see it.

Get. More. Sleep.

Getting enough high-quality sleep is one of the best things you can do to boost your creativity and allow inspired ideas to flow. It’s like an injection of extra energy, imagination and inspiration. How much would you pay for that if it were bottled and sold at a chemist? And yet, sleep is totally natural and completely free.

When you’re rested, you can approach problems with a fresher perspective, increased clarity, and an open mind for creative solutions. That’s why we say we’ll “sleep on it” when facing a big life decision. Because eight hours of quality sleep is what our brains need to do all that subconscious processing and let the best ideas float to the surface.

None of that, of course, is useful if you’re struggling to get decent sleep in practice. So, to help you out, we’ve canvassed the creative community to get their best advice and practical tips on improving the quality of your kip. We share the best below, plus you can read the full discussions on Threads and Twitter.

1. Recognise the importance of sleep

The first point is that most of us undervalue sleep. We treat it like a bank overdraft, so if we miss a few hours here and there, we tell ourselves we’ll “catch up at the weekend”. Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t work like that. It’s important to get a regular eight to ten hours a night; if we don’t, our minds and bodies will suffer. It’s as simple as that.

Implicitly, we all know this, even if we don’t admit it, because the results speak for themselves. “Without a doubt, I do my best work after eight hours’ sleep,” says Ben Kirchner. “I just find visual decisions come much easier, my choices look better, and I have the energy to keep working for longer.”

“I always sleep on it before I send off a finished illustration to a client,” adds illustrator ReesaBoBeesa. “After sleep, I have more clarity; I know what to do: what needs to be edited, what needs to be scrapped and so on.” Designer and illustrator Lisa Fernández Karlsson takes a similar line. “A good night’s sleep is the best fuel for a creative morning”, she believes. “More than once have I woken up with a new approach in my head.”

So why don’t we all make sleep our number one priority? Why do we think it’s worth it to lose sleep to “watch one more episode” of that streaming show that will still be here in the morning or to sit up obsessing over a social media feed that we don’t, in all honesty, need to be looking at?

For many of us, it’s just a habit, pure and simple. So, before all else, you need to adjust your mindset, start valuing sleep (rather than seeing it as an unavoidable nuisance), and build your life around it. Once you start doing that, everything else will follow.

2. DON’T burn the midnight oil

One first step in changing your relationship with sleep is seeing it as more important than work.

Yes, we need work to live, but better sleep will ultimately lead to better productivity and more creative work. So, it’s time to stop putting the cart before the horse. As the graphic designer and illustrator Zuza Furmania says, “It’s better to push the deadline than sacrifice quality by working tired at 2am. Rest benefits both you and your client.”

Timo Ilola, VP of Taxfix, agrees. “If you are working late at night against a deadline, there can come a moment when you’re simply stuck, no matter what you do,” he says. “That’s the moment to go to bed. You’ll let your brain chew on everything you tried out while you sleep. I find if I set up a very early alarm and have a new go at it, it’s guaranteed I’ll be able to solve my problems in the first hours of the day, in time for business open.”

3. Establish a calming pre-bed routine

So what if you’ve gone to bed, but sleep just isn’t coming? Well, that’s a sure sign that you’re lacking a proper routine.

Our bodies put us to sleep according to an inbuilt body clock that’s very hard to hack, as anyone who’s struggled with jet lag will know. So instead, work with it by going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning. “I do this every day, even weekends,” says Tom Norwood, founder of Loop. “It can be tricky to achieve different schedules, but it really helps if you can do it.”

Timing, though, is only one element of a healthy sleep routine. You must also give your body and mind sufficient time and opportunity to slow down first. So, building relaxing activities such as light yoga, a skincare regime, meditation, or reading a book really helps put your mind in the right condition for more restorative sleep.

Illustrator Jessica Molina provides an example. “I’ve created a specific sleep routine that helps me unwind from all the stresses of the day and get my mind ready to rest instead of spinning around,” she says. “This includes doing my skincare, turning on my humidifier, wrapping my hair in a bonnet, and then listening to a sleep meditation or hypnosis. I fall asleep much faster with this routine and am always more creative the next day.”

A healthy sleep routine also involves avoiding screens for at least an hour before bed. “Get all the devices out of the bedroom and put the phone away from the bed,” advises Zuza. “Use candles for a break from screens and artificial light. Allow boredom because it’s the best way to process all the visual content you see daily.”

4. Try exercise and meditation

Are you doing all the above but still not dropping off naturally? Then it’s time to make more active efforts. Two things that anecdotally always seem to work are regular exercise and/or meditation.

“For me, a good night’s sleep is super-important: my brain and creative fuel feel refreshed as a result,” says illustrator Dani Rota. “So during the day, I try to find time to exercise, and mostly, I eat my dinner at least two to three hours before sleeping. It really helps my sleep quality.”

Multidisciplinary creative Belle Yau has found meditation to be key to getting good shut-eye. “30 minutes of yin yoga in bed before sleep is the best,” she recommends. As does illustrator Heather Mueller. “I practise relaxing meditation before sleep, and I incorporate a solid bedtime routine,” she says. “Waking up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated fuels my creative ideas every time.”

5. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and comfortable

Bright lights, excessive heat and being uncomfortable are all enemies of good sleep. So it’s important to optimise your sleep environment by keeping the room cool and dark, and investing in quality bedding. Blackout curtains or an eye mask offer an easy way to shut out light during the summer months.

“I try to sleep between 11pm and 7am, in complete darkness in a cold bedroom,” says illustrator Nataša Majer. “I go to bed around 10pm and read a book. Before sleep, I usually do breathing exercises, sometimes yoga nidra. Sometimes I take a sauna in the evening. I used to have very bad sleeping habits, affecting my health and creativity. That’s why I worked a lot on improving the quality and quantity of my sleep. I don’t sleep during the day, so I can sleep at night.”

Another problem can be noise. “Since that is difficult to control for, I’m recommending Quies Anti-Noise Wax; the only earplugs I’ve been able to sleep in,” says Cat Finnie. “You warm the wax in your hand, then insert/spread over your ear opening, and top with a headband.”

6. Quietly enjoy non-sleep time

Let’s be honest: even if you do everything right, there will be times when you just can’t sleep. In which case, advises linocut printmaker Damyon Mitchell-Hardy, it’s best not to fight it, but just accept and make the best of it.

“I used to suffer with insomnia, waking at 3am and then waiting three anxious hours, desperate to sleep again before my alarm,” he recalls. “I gave up in the end and decided just to enjoy quietly relaxing. I’d do some positive visualisation or self-hypnosis in that time. I really enjoyed it, and slowly, it drifted away. If I wake early now, I usually drift off again.”

7. Keep to a regular work schedule

As we mentioned in the introduction, good sleep can boost your creativity. But as fine artist and photographer Sherri Nordhaus points out, the relationship works the other way too. Just like regular exercise and meditation, doing your creative work on a regular basis (rather than in fits and starts) can also help you sleep better at night.

“If I fail to use my creativity for several days, I have difficulty sleeping because too many ideas are floating around in my head, waking me every few hours,” Sherri says. Creativity wants to flow outward and doesn’t care if I’m trying to sleep. Once I get my ideas on canvas or in a sketchbook, I sleep soundly. It’s critical that I paint frequently so I can sleep.”

8. Be willing to invest

Whether it’s a high-quality mattress, blackout curtains or a white noise machine, sometimes you need to splurge to get the restful slumber required for creative work. And while we all have to spend within our means, a mattress is certainly not something you want to stint on. “It’s either a good mattress or the floor, I swear,” says Zuza. “Or be prepared to splurge on an expensive chair once your back can’t tolerate the bad bed any more!”

It’s also important to invest your time in working on improving your sleep. It won’t happen overnight if you pardon the pun, but it will require a lot of tweaks, changes, commitment, and serious thought. To help you along the way, art director Asa Rodger recommends the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. “I found it a life changer,” he says. “My takeaways: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life, siesta is good for you, manage blue-wave light exposure, REM sleep improves memory, and drugs like alcohol, weed, and sleeping pills put you into sedation, not sleep.”

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