Monday, February 06, 2012

The merits of insomnia

I read an article recently about new studies that suggest insomnia has very strong links to creativity and it certainly struck a chord with me.

I've never been a sound sleeper, and drifting to the surface between sleep cycles tends to bring me into wakefulness, with my mind springing into action like a hamster leaping to its wheel and getting the whirring going. And yes, like the wheel, the thoughts more often than not are circular rather than linear and constructive.

Authors who were interviewed about the findings weren't at all enthusiastic about dealing with the problem. Some of them had an almost superstitious objection to sedation or even Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – which has a good record in treating insomnia – as if, perhaps, sleeping badly was a sort of devil's pact they had signed up to in exchange for the ability to spin stories – one answer,perhaps, to the common question, 'Where do you get your ideas from?'

Recently I finished a book I'd been working on for a long time and was feeling tired and jaded. For once I had no new idea burning in my brain, and for that spell I slept much more soundly, for seven or even eight unbroken hours. Now, when the ideas are stirring again, I'm back to the old pattern.

On the whole, I don't mind, though I hate waking between 2 and 3 am. That's supposed to be physically our lowest point and I always find that's when the dark things come out of the corners and explain in ghoulish detail just how hopeless everything is. It probably has something to do with low blood sugar levels but at that stage I'm still too tired to make myself get up for a cup of tea and a biscuit, so I just lie there and let them crawl all over me.

Waking in the very early morning, though, is different. I'm rested but drowsy and that's when the useful, dreamy thoughts appear, uninhibited by the stern control of the fully conscious mind and problems often solve themselves so that you can drift contentedly back to sleep till the alarm goes.

Sometimes,of course, the idea that seemed so brilliant when you were half-asleep doesn't really stand up to daytime scrutiny. It was, according to William James a poet, Mrs Amos Pinchot, who woke up eager to read what she had scribbled in the middle of the night, convinced it would be the best poem she had ever written and was bitterly disappointed to find, 'Higamus hogamus, woman is monogamous. Hogamus higamus, man is polygamous.'

Still, who's to say she was wrong? I've never heard of any of her other poetry.


NL Gassert said...

I like that time right before falling asleep, when the mind is busy, doing its hamster thing, but the body is quiet. I even like waking up in the middle of the night, with that sudden insight that can turn a whole book around. But I don’t like not being able to fall back asleep. Or taking hours trying to fall asleep in the first place. I’m a chronic sufferer of insomnia, and I can tell you that a tired mind is not a creative mind. It’s difficult to type when the eyes are too tired to focus, but sleep isn’t happening :-/

hannah Dennison said...

I have to read before I turn out my light. My mind is too busy otherwise. Those 3 am wake-up calls are awful though. I know them well.

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