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Discussion on: How to deal with evenings bursts of creativity?

ericnormand profile image
Eric Normand

I have this problem, too. In my youth, I'd have bouts of creativity at night where I could not sleep. Instead of lying in bed frustrated for hours, I learned to get out of bed and work out the ideas in a notebook. As I got older, this had a bigger and bigger impact on the rest of my life.

I want to give a different perspective than the standard recommendations you see nowadays.

I have learned to have an evening routine, focus my attention on something else (like reading), stop working no matter what. My sleep is definitely better. But!!! I think now that the idea that we should have such regular routines, like machines, to make us as productive as possible, is just a product of our time--not a universal truth.

We live in cycles. Sometimes we're on fire with an idea. Sometimes we're lazy or recuperating. Sometimes we've got cortisol, sometimes we don't. To neglect this cycle is damaging. I've had periods of time where I got 4 hours each night, staying up till 3 and waking up at 7 for three weeks, and never felt better. I've had times when I got 9-10 hours each night and felt like it was just what I needed.

Our jobs expect us to be regular. Start at 8. Finish at 9. That might work for factory work (turning a crank, or other mainly physical work), but I don't believe it's healthy for creative work. What's more, I find that living on this routinized schedule is very precarious. For example: one look at a bright cell phone screen an hour before bed will totally ruin my sleep. And everything else in my life is based on having that good sleep.

Look, I could do more to avoid having any lights around the house. I could say "even if I forget to buy that thing on Amazon I promised to buy today, I will wait till tomorrow". Because if I go on Amazon, that will ruin my sleep. But then I'm becoming an unreliable person. It's all tradeoffs. I could do a lot more to make my sleep more secured. But I find my life is poorer for it.

Yes, when I manage to get into a good routine with sleep, and nothing disturbs it, which I can maintain for about 2 weeks, I do feel well-rested. I do! But here are some things I don't feel:

  • engaged with creative work
  • highly productive
  • passionate
  • excited to start again tomorrow

Here's a question: If you stop your passion at 7pm every night, why do you think it will come back? You're training it that there are more important things.

Here's another way to look at it. When I try to get "8 hours of sleep", my life becomes about sleep. It takes a three hour "night routine" to really work that angle. And it all has to go right. The stuff I work on is the stuff that requires less focus and less time, because at 5pm I only have 2 more hours. And getting back to where you are in the morning is, well, time consuming.

With all that said, sleep is important.

Here are some things that really help sleep and help other things as well, so you're killing two birds with each stone.

  • exercise AND stretching (but don't exercise too late)
  • meditating
  • less caffeine and earlier in the day

I'm not saying work yourself ragged. I'm not saying don't enforce limits. I'm saying that life is not so regular as your job enforces.

meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

Such a great answer, that I have share that with all my buddies from work, or family 🙂 I think I'll try to chill with book in late evenings and when it comes to these great ideas, I will definitely write it down somewhere.

And what is the most important, thanks to your reply, I won't be as focused as I used to be on keeping such a strict routine till now.

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

I really like this answer and find myself in the same boat. Many times I will have an idea unshakably lodged in my brain (software architecture, philosophy, gaming, etc.). It excites my mind and my body follows suit with increased heart rate and breathing. Taking standard medication (Zzquil, melatonin, etc.) usually does not let me sleep when I'm in this state. So it's either lay there most of the night turning it over in my mind or just get up and explore the idea. Either way is only a few hours sleep.

I just roll with it. Sometimes it's a thinking idea and I just lay there and think about it. Sometimes I can research it or try it so I get up and do that because it's the quickest way to sleep. I'm tired the next day, but when it is a software-related idea, many times my work benefits on balance.

I've also found that if I try to put a lot of pressure on myself to sleep at certain times, I am less likely to be able to sleep for being stressed about it. So anyway, rolling with it is what I do. I sometimes wish I could turn it off and just go to sleep, especially when it is several nights in a row.

Jayne - If wishes were horses we'd all be eatin steak

meanin profile image
Paweł Ruciński Author

Thanks for your reply. Some time after posting this, I realized that I really have to wrote evening ideas down or even develop them to the end. I 100% agree with your point that in most cases we will eventually benefit on sacrifice a few hours of sleep.