Want to be more creative? Start keeping more boring hours



Stop burning the midnight oil, rock star. You’re better off and maybe more creative keeping unglamorous, 8-hours-of-sleep hours.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, who wrote that her “candle burns at both ends,” epitomized the image of the insomniac artist: a person so consumed with the creative act that she couldn’t be bothered to sleep. No wonder Millay’s friend Dorothy Thompson called her “a whimsical genius, sometimes…petulant and imperious…sometimes stormy, turbulent, and as unreckonable as the sea.” The more overtired we are, the more irritable.Of course, we forgive our artists their petulance and turbulence. It’s no fun to think about Shakespeare, or Picasso or even Steve Jobs at their desks from 9 to 5 with a one-hour break for lunch and a 4pm Starbucks run. A recent study in the Journal Thinking Skills and Creativity, however, suggests that creative-genius hours don’t fuel creativity and insomnia probably isn’t linked to the creative act.

“We wanted to test the theory that people who are creative are tortured by their constantly churning thoughts–and whether staying up all night, struggling with insomnia is an indicator of the genius/madness stereotype,” says Roger Beaty, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and co-author of the paper “Tired MInds, Tired Ideas?”

Beaty and his team tested subjects’ levels of creative thinking and behavior. The assessment covered divergent thinking, (imagining uncommon uses for everyday objects), everyday creative behavior (such as making a birthday card for a friend or designing a website) and creative achievement (such as writing a book or recording music). Subjects also took an insomnia test that assessed daytime and nighttime sleep disturbance. The former includes waking up tired coupled with persistant tiredness throughout the day. The latter includes multiple occasions of wakefulness (at least 30 minutes) between periods of sleep.

The study found zero creative improvement among individuals with daytime insomnia and very slight, albeit statistically insignificant increases in creative behavior among individuals with nighttime insomnia. These were “little C” activities,” which Beaty says is academic speak for less impressive creative acts like crafting, telling a joke or making a gift.

“Our study suggests that if you’re awake all night, you might get more done. Maybe you’re redecorating your room,” Beaty says. But you’re not producing high quality creative work. “If you’re not well rested, you won’t have the ability to sit down and focus when you really want to function.”

Beaty’s recommendation for artists and creative types? “Get more sleep.”

Clearly, insomnia doesn’t make you more creative. But are creative people more likely to have insomnia? When Beaty ran his numbers in reverse, he discovered that people with the “openness to experience,” personality trait demonstrated greater daytime and nighttime sleep disturbances.

“Of the “Big 5″ personality traits, openness is most consistently related to creative thinking and behavior,” says Beaty. Still, he doesn’t want to make too much of the correlation. “Openness captures a wide range of behaviors,” he says. “Perhaps the part of openness that relates to insomnia has little to do with creativity.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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