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Get More Sleep (and Creativity)

Sleep. On the one hand, we talk longingly about it like it’s sex or dinner at a four-star restaurant. On the other hand, we brag about how hard we work, how little we sleep and how caffeinated we stay just to get everything done. We read with awe about super-productive people, from startup founders to music stars, who insist they only need four hours of sleep, and we think that should be us, too.

But as more and more research shows how powerfully sleep affects our brains, the clearer it becomes that we’re actually being counterproductive with all the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” machismo.

Working late might look impressive, but how much are you really getting done when you labor long hours — and how good is the work you’re producing? As Tony Schwartz of The Energy Projectpoints out, our value isn’t in how long we work, but in the quality of what we make when we are working. And we create better stuff when we’re rested.

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He has plenty of backup on this idea:

– According to one study, poor sleep quality costs companies almost $2,300 per worker a year in lost productivity.

– Other studies have found that more sleep helps us reach “aha!” insights more quickly.

– Sleep improves our ability to make connections between different ideas — the very heart of creativity.

Good stuff, right? So how do you get more sleep (and the creativity that comes with it)?

– Meditate. The scientific proof that meditation is really, really good for you just keeps piling up. The benefits include reducing anxiety and tension, and, you guessed it, improving sleep.

– Get some daylight. Maybe you create best tucked away with only the light of your computer screen. But if you can add more natural light to your day, you’ll sleep better at night.

– Lay off the booze. Creative cultures can tend to be, ahem, well-lubricated cultures, too. But while a couple of glasses of wine after work might help you relax, drinking also makes your sleep less restful.

– Watch your p.m. screen time. This is a tough one if you’re used to working up until bedtime, checking emails through the night or even relaxing with Facebook or a novel on your e-reader before bed. But the glow from your handy devices really does scramble your brain’s sleep cycle.

If you’re a leader, you’ll have more creative, productive employees if you do things that help them get more sleep. This doesn’t necessarily mean setting up a nap pod (although if you do, more power to you). Encourage them to unplug after hours and make clear you don’t expect immediate responses to late-night emails. If it’s workable for your office, consider granting flexible hours to get the best of both your night owls and your early birds.

Your creativity doesn’t perform on demand. Being at your creative best when you work takes maintenance, and sleep is a big part of that. Fight that voice saying you have to be producing every moment and give yourself more sleep.  It’s actually one of the most productive things you can do.

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