After a week of wildness and goofing off while at art school, I stayed up for 48 hours to complete a particularly tough assignment. My classmate and best friend, Jim Ferron, on the other hand, had stayed off the streets and worked at the project in a measured, systematic way. Jim aced the job while my effort earned me a trip to the registrar’s office. “You look like a hoot owl,” said the registrar, “Explain yourself.”
Current research indicates that most people need seven hours of sleep — no more, no less — for best mental sharpness, effective workdays and long-term avoidance of dementia, stroke, etc. This was recently disclosed to 4,000 delegates who attended the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. In this conference, sleep was mentioned frequently.
RLZ is a system suitable for creative people. “Regulated Life Zones” permits folks to go for days or even weeks in steady and energetic creativity. Also paying dividends in growth and productivity, the idea is to sleep regular hours, eat moderately, minimize social events and not move far from your work area except possibly for exercise.
The RLZ program fizzles when outside stimulus is once again needed. Self-understanding determines time and duration. All artists need to know their own speed.
The prospect of solo shows, like the meeting of school deadlines, need not deflect this sort of regularity. Work goes best when it is paced, contemplated in good time and infused with focus and the internal excitement that the work itself evokes. Going to bed about the same time every night sets the inner clock to coincide with the next dispensation. Good work and a satisfying, simple lifestyle induce efficient sleep.
Mental sharpness studies also show that the seven-hour rule applies when part of it is a midday nap. Many artists report “two days for the price of one.” Rising again in midday they are revived and refreshed. I recommend snoozing in a quiet sanctuary outside the studio where you can rest undisturbed. The use of mechanical alarm clocks in the morning or afternoon is the only reason I know of for the carrying of firearms.
PS: “Extreme sleep durations (too little or too much) may contribute to cognitive loss.” (Elizabeth Devore, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston)
Esoterica: When the registrar asked me to explain myself, I unfortunately let out a little hoot. Come to think of it, it’s amazing this was not my last day at Art Center. I told her I now realized the marathon thing was not working for me, and I was too tired to explain why. But I told her I was one hoot owl who would change its spots. Looking back, it was an important moment in my art career. Jobs worth doing are worth doing well. Take the time and love the work. The monk-like lifestyle has lots of epiphanies. Be as sharp as you can possibly be. Get sleep.
by Carolina De Medina, North Caldwell, New Jersey, USA
Actually, the Gold Standard for sleep is 7.5 — 8.5 hrs per night for adults. Children require at least 10 hours per night.
Of course Sleep Need is measured on a Bell Curve, so there are huge variations, but the numbers of course drop off rapidly towards the edges. There is a very very tiny percentage of people who need no sleep. They stay up all night reading magazines. Rarely are they creative all night. And there ARE people who require up to 15 hours sleep per night. Normal people. Sleep is interesting. My son is a professional Squash Player. He was ranked nationally @ 13 a few years ago. He says that at big tournaments all the top players are either playing or resting. Staying fit in a holistic sense is the True Edge. That really applies to us all.
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Sleeping on the job
by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia
I fear that the sleep issue is less likely to come from the very few professional artists who have the luxury of painting during daylight hours. The real problem lies with part-timers like me who work for a boss for eight hours a day, then travel home, eat, say hello to the family and then try and find time to paint.
We may only get cracking at eight p.m. and, as you know, once the concentration sets in, time disappears into some kind of black hole. Some solutions are falling asleep on public transport on the way and coming home from work or perhaps just sleeping on the job. As for owls — we are many.
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Just tired, not crazy
by Dorothy Gardiner, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA
When I was nursing my son, I went for classes as I had never personally known a woman who did it. One class was about sleep deprivation and how it has been used by many as a form of torture. We all might know a stressed out young mother or an artist working against a deadline. If you tell someone that fact they immediately acknowledge that they are just tired not crazy. All are glad to be understood.
by Karla Pearce Gallery, Kamloops, BC, Canada
When I was in art school I went a full month without sleeping. A lot of people have told me that is physically impossible but I didn’t know that at the time. After about two weeks I started to dream while I was awake. Very weird. I ended up creating a body of work during this time period, self-portraits, and had a rather successful show from it. I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone. I had to eat a lot just to keep my body fueled.
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by Peter Fox, BC, Canada
My easel is set up in my sleep-room and while lying in bed work can be viewed with a critical eye. Night before last I had difficulty keeping both of those eyes shut so instead of solving world problems I worked on problems with Olivia’s nose.
I’ve never been quite sure about this 7 and 8 hour stuff. Way I see it, one hour a night less snooze time is 365 extra workable hours or 22 extra awake days a year. Over a lifetime that could add up to a lot of creative time, even if you do fall asleep now and again at concerts (classical) or lectures (art history).
Here’s a view from my bed… with coloured pencil there’s no mess, no smell and no cleanup.
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Memory and sleep
by Barbara Youtz, New Harbor, ME, USA
I found today’s “In praise of sleep” an interesting read and agreed with much of what the writer said. Reading the piece also caused me to recall an article which I recently read on a sleep study. The study was conducted with two groups of students who were each given the same set of things to memorize then tested, They were told they would be asked to recall these same things the next morning.
One group was allowed to sleep seven or eight hours while the other only had about 4 or 5 hours sleep. When the test was repeated the following morning, the first group did even better than the night before and as you would probably already have guessed the second group did not do as well. Not only that, but the second group had no idea that their performance was poorer. It seems that sleep gives the brain time to organize and reinforce the day’s experiences and also allows the brain to function normally the next day.
I am interested in the role sleep plays in a person’s life because I have sleep apnea and have experienced the confused tired feeling upon waking after a bad night’s sleep. A party or night on the town will give me a similar result. Most of the following day is unproductive. Memory is really affected. One thing the writer did not mention was that age also plays an important role here. I find that the older I am the harder it is to lose sleep and function at top speed.
That said, I remember how much fun it was to socialize far into the night on those rare occasions when reconnecting with good friends after a number of years. And celebrations are certainly worthy of a late night. As they say all work and no play… In my opinion balance is good for me and my productivity. Now if I can only practice what I preach.
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The afternoon nap
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany
This morning I misread the title of your letter as “In praise of sheep” and proceeded to read and interpret the contents of the first paragraph on that basis.
The laugh was on me, of course, except that counting sheep is a tried and tested soporific.
What was not mentioned in the letter was the fact that the designated 7 hours is only barely believable since the amount of sleep one needs at any time depends on other factors, e.g. adrenaline level at bed time, physical tiredness, previous lack of sleep.
The afternoon nap can actually replace several hours of night time sleep, as any stage performer will tell you. In fact, as I singer, I know that the hour or two in the land of nod after lunch are invaluable for the evening performance.
UK Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher is said to have needed only 4 hours sleep per night. But she is now suffering from Alzheimer’s and your RLZ letter made me wonder if the cause is at least in part due to regular lack of sleep during her working life.
I have renamed the “Regulated Life Zones” to “Ritually Lazy Zombies,” which might apply to some habitual sleep abusers.
Another reason not mentioned is that 7 hours is the maximum duration of sleep before the body starts to poison itself due to chemical processes.
What is really important is not to think one is an insomniac. Waking time can be more usefully spent than by tossing and turning. I’m not sure counting sheep qualifies, but maybe if you count backward from a million and recite every digit, your insomnia will be dissipated in no time at all.
I’m trying to move on from painting slavishly to just having fun whatever the consequences!
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Roses for you
oil painting 12 x 24 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Zoltan Kiss of West Vancouver, BC, Canada, who said, “The Romans said, ‘Sex horas dormire sata est juveniqe,seniqve’ = six hours of sleep is enough for young and old.”
Enjoy the past comments below for In praise of sleep…