Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Go Sleep Yourself

Thanks to school, I've been pulling a lot of all-nighters recently. I've discovered that getting a little sleep is worse than getting no sleep at all. And after successfully pulling an all-nighter, I tend to have an increased creative drive. The problem is staying awake long enough to take advantage of it.

I should take a moment to note that this post is a result of a combination between sleep deprivation, thanks to a midterm yesterday, and procrastination, thanks to an essay I'm supposed to be writing. (Procrastination theory: when you're supposed to be doing something, you suddenly become very productive at doing almost anything else.)

CNN.com quotes studies confirming that sleep is essential for creativity. Apparently when you sleep, your memories are restructured, which enhances overall thinking power. I guess that one guy who hasn't slept in over thirty years is screwed. (Assuming that case isn't a fraud, of course.)

But many famous creative types were infamously horrible sleepers. Just ask the (now defunct) "Google Answers": Famous Four-Hour Sleepers. That includes Famous People from Thomas Edison to Napoleon Bonaparte. What's up, doc? Well, some of that can be chalked up to 'polyphasic sleep', or frequent cat-napping in lieu of one long sleep 'bout'. (Studies indicate, somewhat confirming my earlier observation, that taking 20-30 minute naps every four hours, making 2-3 hours of sleep total in a 24 hour period, lets a person mentally perform better than taking that 2-3 hours of sleep in one go.) Some of it can be chalked up to quirks in each person's unique physiology. But that's not all, apparently. The amusingly named "Sleep Review" magazine has an article up summarizing a variety of studies on the beneficial affects of sleep deprivation. Apparently the brain can temporarily compensate for lack of sleep by shifting the areas where thinking takes place. You get to keep your 'working memory'; the parts used in learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Abusing this physiological function is apparently what gives people like me the post-all-nighter temporary creative 'jolt'.

Unfortunately, 'temporary' is the key word there. The all-knowing Wikipedia has a short list of some of the entertaining effects of prolonged sleep deprivation. Highlights include depression, colorblindness, depersonalization, hallucinations, hernia, memory loss, psychosis, weight fluctuation and, uh, yawning. It can also make you act like you're drunk - for free. I have to admit I've personally experienced the majority of those effects (thankfully not including psychosis, although some friends of mine may disagree with me there).

God, all this typing about sleep. I just want to go to bed now...


David Isaak said...

Lawrence Block had a hero named Tanner who couldn't sleep at all. From what I understand, it is a real but uncommon medical phenomenon.

But you should go to bed.

Jake Jesson said...

Wikipedia informs me that there are people who are unable to sleep for months on end (with short hallucinatory episodes at certain times of the day), but no scientifically documented cases of people who never sleep. (The guy in the article I linked to hasn't been studied for some reason, so his claim hasn't been verified...)

I could just go with something my high school friends used to say: "Sleep is for the weak."