Innovation Inspiration #002—Sleep

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Sleep. Early and often. Make a habit of it.

Discard the habit of pulling all-nighters (an occasional one is OK).

Unless you’re doing something where lives will be lost if you sleep, you are doing more harm to your job performance and innovation capabilities than you will gain the next day.

Most of my knowledge is empirical, but there is research that backs me up.

Wikipedia’s entry, Sleep and Creativity, lists a bunch of anecdotes, and a handful of studies, but the literature is actually deeper than reflected in this sparse article.

Sleep is critical to innovation, because it supports the “slow hunch” that Steven Johnson speaks of in Where Good Ideas Come From. In particular, during REM sleep, memories get reactivated and connected to each other. Perhaps randomly, perhaps through other mechanisms, but certainly in ways that differ from what happens when you’re awake.

So sleep on it. Long and well enough that you want to jump out of bead instead of smashing the alarm clock.

Worry not if it’s 9 pm and your deadline is COB tomorrow. Get your posterior under the covers and your brain asleep by 10 (most of us get our best sleep between 10 pm and 1 am), and re-attack the problem in the morning (read: not before 06:00). You will do a far better job at meeting the deadline than if you pulled an all-nighter.

And keep a notebook or voice recorder by the bed, so when you can record your thoughts when you wake up and your inspiration is still fresh.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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