All kinds of sleep disorders are now being identified by experts. “Nocturnal eating syndrome,” for example, is one that silently and stealthily robs the fridge. As well as insomnia there’s apnea, narcolepsy, paralysis, bruxism: the list goes on. Young people are today the most vulnerable — in high school and particularly in university. Sleep deprivation eats into learning — just when alertness and concentration are needed most — to say nothing of harming the immune system and motor skills. Among sleep deprived college students in a recent test, creativity was the first faculty to go.
Great are the days when we arise fresh — when the ideas flow and the tools move to make it happen. These are the days we artists need and desire perhaps more than anything else.
I lost a lot of sleep during a period of about five years when I was sitting on arts-related boards. Learning the ropes, general anxiety and the desire to do my best took their toll. My work suffered. When I resigned from everything my sleep smoothed out and my work improved. There was another factor — it’s the dumbest little thing — but it’s given a good night’s sleep ever since. It’s a Transcendental Meditation method and it works like a wiz. Visualize a row of matches or any other little stuff. I start with ten and work my way down to one, then back up again. You actually have to put the configurations of items up on the screen of your mind, sort of click on them, then move to the next in the series. It’s what takes place between the matches that’s important — harmless and inconsequential thoughts bubble up from the subconscious, erasing the cares of the day. It’s so soporific that sometimes I forget what it’s all about and I’m lost before I get to five. For visually-oriented people it’s a well documented and proven technique.
PS: “Young people are averaging 6.8 hours of rest when they need 8 to function properly. Fifteen percent are falling asleep in class. Fewer students are doing original thinking.” (U.S. National Sleep Foundation)
Esoterica: “Nocturnal Painting Syndrome” is not yet recognized as a full-blown disorder. The victim shilly-shallys all day, sleeps poorly, practically sleepwalks to the work area in the middle of the night, and fitfully returns to bed when the rest of the house is arising. Another variant begins work only in the evening and simply doesn’t quit.
by Kim Brosemer
I am a painter and I experience a different type of nocturnal painting. I live an effective daytime existence, am a natural morning person and usually wake up comfortably between 6 and 7 a.m. – 7 a.m. is “sleeping in”. On a nocturnal painting outing, I sleep soundly until around 2 or 3 a.m., suddenly wake completely up and realize I will not get back to sleep easily, so I get up and start painting. If I feel tired later, it is usually at 4:30 a.m. and I go back to bed until 6. Sometimes, however, I am still wide awake and continue painting. At 6 a.m. I begin my normal day. I am not tired during the day, but will usually go to bed the next night at my usual time and sleep soundly straight through.
A lot of the success I experience with nocturnal painting I attribute to my attitude about the experience. I assume that if I needed sleep I would be able to sleep, so if I get up and paint, I am not robbing myself of sleep. Therefore I experience no damage. This happens about once or twice each month, as the moon waxes to full. Extra light in the bedroom wakes me up, I think, since I am a morning person.
Write it out
by Carole MacRury, Pt. Roberts, Washington, USA
Thanks for the valuable tip on meditation! I’ve been unsuccessful, because I thought I had to empty my mind. It seems one must focus on something to still the chatter! I’m going to try your method. We all know that marvelous moments of creativity creep in when we least expect them, which makes it crucial to be able to free the mind of detritus. When I read your “Esoterica” on Nocturnal Painting Syndrome, I found myself! I write, instead of paint, but have done this very thing many times. I didn’t know it was a syndrome!
by Jim Nasium, S. Philadelphia, PA, USA
I must admit that I didn’t know that what I do is actually a sleep disorder, and something that many others have too. It seems that I have suffered from “Nocturnal eating syndrome,” for a few years now, and it’s really starting to get to me. I feel tired all day long ’cause I do not get much sleep at all…
Your letter came to me on time, and tonight I am gonna try your sleep suggestion and hopefully get myself a good night’s sleep.
by Betty, Mount Gilead, Ohio, USA
When I have “Nocturnal Painting Syndrome,” I read your letters and they bring me back, perhaps inspire me, but definitely bring a smile on my face.
by Carol Costa
I was serving on a board at a holistic educational center, and little by little I began to take on several committees and responsibilities. This, in conjunction with trying to earn a living by my pen, left no time to paint or draw. Well, lately, I’ve been literally itching to put brush to canvas, so, yesterday I resigned from every committee. It was very difficult because I got used to the stroking I got from doing sooooo much, but I did it.
It’s a useful practice to stop every once in awhile and take stock of one’s life… to note the roadblocks, and the caution signs along the way… and then to make changes. Like the Zen masters, I know that life is short. I don’t want to ever regret not having done what pleases me or makes me more alive.
Sleep’s the problem
by Tracy Call
My creative energy gets drained from lack of sleep, busy lifestyle and my job as a graphic designer leaves me “disenchanted” at times to say the least. (I’m not a corporate gal at all and the world of advertising is so phony and dishonest I wonder if I’m doing myself more harm than good on a subconcious/spiritual level.) Sleep has always been a problem and when I do get sleep I’m absolutely thrilled.
Art’s the cause
by Valeri Rose, Florida, USA
For myself, currently and throughout college, art was and is the main reason for sleep deprivation. I get on a roll with a piece and don’t stop. I usually work in cycles – art binges and artless slack. Spending a weekend, a few nights, or an entire week working into the early morn until a piece is finished does not decrease my “flow of artistic juices,” in fact it more often than not increases them. Of course this is followed by a stagnant period of artistic slack, where nothing is new and interesting… but this allows me time to catch up on the normal life duties that I so often ignore during my art binges. By the time I’m caught up with normal life, and bored with the mundaneness of it, I’m also at the point where I’m enfuriated enough with the mainstream society and/or politics to really punch out some excellent work. Thus, this cycle allows me to experience life as a “regular Joe,” and then express my views artistically in short bouts of artistic umph! As a political artist this is neccessary to make my art real, something I live rather than just see. This cycle also weeds out the possibility of bad art because I only work when I am deeply inspired. You might say this cycle is a dangerous one, detrimental to my health, and I could easily break it by working in the studio a little bit every day, but I rather like it. I’m in tune with my body enough to understand what is going on and how to remedy it, and by this time my body has grown accustomed to my work habits.
Short naps and radio
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA
Being well-rested is certainly key because when I go into the studio it must be after the decks have been cleared of routine chores, I’m fed and ready for the long haul. Ideally I lose track of time altogether. Wish I could just get rid of the clock, but need to know when Fresh Air or All Things Considered comes on NPR — prime working time. Listening seems to move me a step or two back from the painting, so I’m a bit less self-conscious about the work and can tap into that subconscious resource. I stretch out on the floor for short naps periodically, and have learned that many artists do. Has it to do with exhaustion from constant decision-making or physical labor of larger canvases? Or is it from tapping the creative center where dreams are made and paintings come from?
The biggest hurdle is defining studio time, wherever it may fall within a 24 hour period, carving it out of full days and honoring it on a daily basis. This is one element of Process I’ve identified that’s absolutely essential for the work to be done.
by Joan Gordon, Kamloops, BC, Canada
Your matchstick method of getting to sleep is nothing I have ever heard of in relation to Transcendental Meditation, which I have done now for over 30 years. However, I am well acquainted with the value of the gap between thoughts as therin lies Brahman Consciousness and with it, life’s magic. Maybe the secret of falling asleep lies in the gap between matchsticks. I’ll try it.
(RG note) The TM method I originally learned was to lightly concentrate on my mantra and try to get it to evoke a feeling of nothingness — this worked for me but only partially. Strong anxieties did not seem to go away and kept me often awake whether I was trying to meditate in the afternoon or get to sleep at night. My assistant at that time, Tara, a dedicated meditator, gave me a book that claimed a system useful to people who visualize things naturally. The book has long since disappeared to someone else’s shelf but the method continues to work for me. I had always found that I could fantasize myself to sleep — and with this system it sort of makes it happen naturally.
by Mary Gideon, Toronto, ON, Canada
At BFA my friend Lisa and I used to sleep in, watch daytime TV, generally goof off and bake cookies. At 9 o’clock we’d wander down to studio in the pitch black, four feet of snow, sit around until our creative juices got going and then work steadily, not talking, not resting, not eating until 5 a.m. or so. Lisa’s paintings were always spectacular with this method. Mine were so-so or the same as I could produce on a nine to five basis. Incidentally, the marking would commence at 9 a.m., just as we were digesting our cheerios and crawling back into bed.
by Billy Krumenacker
In this world of ours today you must lose sleep or you just aren’t working hard enough. Also, you need a college education which, if you take your college time seriously… You will lose sleep. And it’s usually going something crazy like English or Algebra (neither of which will make you a better artist). However, if you opt for the other route (which I have), then you better be a sleepy slob, or nobody is going to believe that you really work hard.
Working at night offers a whole world of opportuniy for an artist. There are no tele-marketers calling, most everyone is asleep — so they traditionally don’t bother you, and the body slows for sleep-mode. As your body slows for sleep, there are beneficial factors. Such as more fluid and smoother movements, an increased sense of time loss, and a greater patience span (due to the fact that your brain is half asleep). Whereas, daytime painting offers a lot of disturbances from other household members, people calling on the telephone, and from time to time a friend knocking at your door wanting to pass time and drink coffee. As an artist trying to make my “big splash” in the gallery world, I am constantly running up against the “college educated” gallery owners who want college educated artists with a vast knowledge of B.S. I still haven’t figured out how this makes a better painter. I am not knocking college. I am only stating that the world looks on those who don’t partake of it as a lesser person (and I’m finding no difference with the art). Sleep deprivation seems to go hand in hand with the “American dream.”
Wrong kind of fire
by Alan Taylor
We here in western Montana have been so preoccupied with the forest fire situation that, for many of us has cost many a night’s sleep. It’s now almost a habit to toss and turn, still thinking of what’s in the evacuation kit, and whether the fire season is really over (it isn’t, most likely), and on and on. Sure has raised Cain with my creativity.
by L Vi Vona, Long Island, NY, USA
I used to stay up late painting or drawing et cetera… until May 19th 1993 when a sleepless night caused me to fall asleep at the wheel. I woke up a quadraplegic. Now I’m working at recovering as much physical mobility as possible. Meditation helps me to continue in a state of optimism.
You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes Jack W Brady of Eastbourne, England, who would have replied sooner only he was sleeping.
And Kelly Borsheim of Texas who wrote, “I just awoke from a nap when I decided to check my e-mail before getting back to sculpture and was very happy to find out that sleep deprivation hinders creativity! Thanks for the guilt-free permission to nap as needed.”
And by the way, it’s only the weather that’s slowing down Bill Turkington’s production in Prague, and Joseph Tany of Barcelona promises to write something “of freshness and vitality” if they only let him sleep first.