Thursday, January 20, 2011

The silent creativity killer: lack of sleep

I was reading this article today: Silent Career Killer: Sleep and I was simply astonished to read the numbers (150 billions dollars of revenue loss per year due to the effects of sleep deprivation).

For someone like me, who's life is composed of critically analyzing literature, thinking about the mechanical model I want to develop for shear, writing papers and running around the lab and taking lab-related decisions for my project, it is incredibly important to be able to:
- think and judge clearly;
- come up with creative ideas;
- always be one step ahead of what is going on in the lab now to make sure we have a continuous stream of experimental work;
- find the missing links in what has been done up to now; and
- keep the overall picture in mind.

This list of skills I need on a day to day basis completely contradict with the results of sleep deprivation from the article:
- decreased quality and accuracy of work;
- inability to think and judge clearly;
- reduced ability to make decisions, particularly ones that require both emotional and mental thought; and
- diminished memory of important details.

This, among other signals, shows how important it is to get a decent share of sleep. But somehow, this seems to be much more difficult than it seems. I always end up in bed a bit later than planned, nibbling away my much-needed sleep. The main reasons why I never sleep enough during the week are:
- not taking into account the time it takes to pack my bag for the next day and prepare lunch and sometimes dinner to take to university;
- random clicking around the internet;
- wanting to finish some work while I'm already tired; and
- being unable to sleep right after coming home from choir practice or another social event and needing to spend some downtime first.

Another reason why I've been neglecting my need for sleep for quite some time is that I actually never took it serious. When I was 18, I read a newspaper article, claiming that if you sleep more than 8 hours you'd become lazy. Ever since then, I've regarded getting enough sleep as something for "people who have time for it" and "weak people". Slowly though, I start to realize that idea is wrong. Especially for the creative thinking I need on a day-to-day basis, a clear and rested mind are more than necessary.

Since January 4th, I've started tracking the time at which I go to bed and on that list I've highlighted the days at which I managed to go to bed before 11pm (leaving me 8 hours to sleep) with a smiley face. As for now, I have 3 smiley faces since that day for weekdays, which shows how far I am from actually sleeping enough.

And then, still, the question remains how much sleep is actually enough. For years, I've been in a pattern of sleep deprivation during the weekdays, and then sleeping in during the weekends (sometimes sleeping 12 hours per night). On Sunday night, I am not tired then, but when I need to wake up on Monday, I feel immediately that I am not fully rested.
The first thing I'm trying out now is to sleep and rise earlier during the weekend, to create a more steady sleeping pattern.

Over time, I hope to achieve that I can wake up before my alarm clock, and feeling rested and able to focus very well during the day.

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