Counting on that Saturday snoozefest to get you through a busy week? To achieve that next flash of brilliance, you may want to consider putting down the paintbrush and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. According to a new study published in the Journal of Interior Design, binge-sleeping is bad for creativity, providing further justification that you need a full eight hours of Zzzzs to be at peak performance. While it is true that Leonardo Da Vinci relied on a series of 20-minute naps every four hours to keep him going and inventor Nikola Tesla didn't believe in getting more than two hours of shuteye a night, findings show that they are in the minority when it comes to the amount of steady sleep people need for optimal creativity. Who knows? Maybe we'd have 12 Mona Lisas today if Da Vinci actually slept through the night.
The consequences of sleep deprivation have been well-documented; poor sleep habits have been shown to lead to depression, a weakened immune system, memory trouble, and impaired functioning that can leave a person more accident prone. But, in creative project-based fields such as art, architecture, and graphic design, pulling all-nighters is not uncommon, and sleep varies depending on tasks to be completed and looming deadlines.
To investigate the ramifications of an erratic sleep schedule, researchers at Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory tracked 28 female undergraduate interior design students over a period of seven days. The participants were given a fitness tracker (similar to a FitBit), and were tasked with keeping a diary of how much they slept and the quality of the sleep. Their cognitive abilities were tested in sessions measuring creativity and executive attention (holding onto memories while completing other tasks) before and after the study.
On a whole, students slept far less than they thought they did, overestimating their total sleep time each night by an average of 36 minutes. In addition, 79 percent of students slept for less than seven hours three or more nights during the test week. This could be a result of the immense stress and pressure they are under in their classes, each one working for the weekend. "Projects are often lengthy, with final due dates looming weeks or months in the future," lead author and assistant professor of interior design Elise King explained in a press release. "The stress of juggling several projects, each with multiple deadlines, is likely to contribute to students' tendency to cycle between several days of poor sleep leading up to a project due date, followed by a catch-up day with 10 or more sleep hours."
Researchers found that while memory (thankfully) wasn't found to be affected by the lack of sleep, the student's creativity suffered. "The more variability they showed in their night-to-night sleep, the worse their cognition declined across the week," co-author Michael Scullin said in the press release. Researchers believe that while more studies are needed on the subject, in the meantime schools should find a way to reduce pressure and help students live healthier lives.
For those having trouble finishing their novel — the National Sleep Foundation recommends logging between seven and nine hours per night. And if you really want to get an extra boost of creativity, you can always try sleeping and working facing North, like Charles Dickens.