What's the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to foster creativity?
It has been a busy day at work. You had 10 deadlines - on the same day - and you somehow managed to pull it all off. This has naturally involved a few too many all-nighters and countless cups of instant coffee over the past week. And you still managed to fit in a night out with your friends - where you drank one too many beers and woke up with a slight pounding in your right temple.

This busy lifestyle has been glorified in recent times - living in a bustling urban setting and having a vibrant social life while maintaining an incredibly demanding job and balancing the demands of a family. Busyness has become something to be admired and is often seen as a status symbol. People have become chronically addicted to business due to the adrenaline rush it facilitates - but at what cost? As a result, one of our most fundamental biological processes is being neglected.

So, make yourself a cup of decaf (or a herbal tea) while we talk about the science of sleep.
As Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology, states; sleep is your life support system. It is Mother Nature's best effort yet at mortality. So why are we neglecting sleep when it serves as such a fundamental part of our everyday existence? A healthy amount of sleep can prolong your life and a lack of sleep is linked to two of the most feared diseases in modern society - Alzheimer's and cancer. Sleep is so important that the World Health Organization has classified any form of nighttime shift work as dangerous to the human system as a carcinogen. But the benefits of sleep stretch beyond merely prolonging your life.
The basics of sleep:
There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-REM sleep. Rapid eye movement sleep is when we are dreaming. It can be described as a more "superficial" type of sleep. The non-REM stage is deeper and more restorative to the system. Sleep is a continuous cycle of these stages that are in a constant battle for cerebral dominance every 90 minutes. In the first half of your sleep, your brain is dominated by non-REM sleep, and in the second half, your brain is dominated by REM sleep (where we are more likely to dream). Neither of these is more important than the next, they are as important as each other. What is notable though is that the second stage taps into one of our most unique traits - a trait that is revered, cultivated and constantly sought after. This is our creativity.
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A lack of sleep has been linked to poor cognitive function, erratic behaviour and low creativity. Dreaming (which typically happens in REM sleep) is a simulation of reality with full visual imagery, sounds and intense emotions yet your muscles are temporarily paralysed - allowing for rest as you enter this subconscious state. From a neuroscience perspective, sleep draws on semantic and episodic memories - to create interesting new synapses. Episodic memories concern the individual's personal experiences, whereas semantic memories are facts and ideas abstracted from personal experience and learning. In simple terms, this means that when we dream, our brain makes connections between a whole bunch of different things to form brand new, interesting connections - laying the foundation for creativity. All while being completely unconscious and undisturbed by the noise of the outside world. How awesome is that?!

In short, sleep is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to foster creativity!

To drive this point home, one of the world's best-known and most widely-used discoveries was thought of while dreaming - The Periodic Table. And with Wimbledon currently on, it is interesting to note that Roger Federer is said to have 12 hours of sleep a night. "Sleep is probably the greatest legal enhancing performance drug that few athletes are abusing enough," said Walker. The same logic can be applied to our places of work - sleep is the most underestimated tool for creativity, focus, and empathy.
AP Photo
It is only logical to compromise sleep as you partake in an impossibly busy world. It's the one thing that will only affect you - or so you think. Yet, there is a lack of education around sleep, its benefits as an absolute necessity. Saying things such as "Sleep when you're dead!" is harmful to yourself and detrimental to society's perspective on sleep. As Walker says; "If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made."

Instead of turning to extra hours to boost your workflow, place your head on the pillow and get dreaming. Who knows - maybe you could dream up the next biggest invention! On that note, may you sleep soundly tonight.