In praise of sleep

Dear Artist, 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. Best regards, Robert 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.   Holistic fitness by Carolina De Medina, North Caldwell, New Jersey, USA  

“Mountain Pass, Scotland”
original painting
by Carolina De Medina

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. There are 3 comments for Holistic fitness by Carolina De Medina
From: Jackie Knott — Jul 24, 2012

Unfortunately, those variations are not tolerated well. An alarm clock is an obscene device whose usefulness is suspect beyond making an early flight. Most people are forced into a “work week” where our circadian rhythms are standardized. We rarely get the sleep we need and wake naturally. Sleep deprivation is often about nightowls trying to reprogram for a lifetime. Not everyone is in top form at 8am, but are far more productive at 8pm.

From: Delores Hamilton — Jul 24, 2012

Jackie’s comment resonates with me. I have been a night owl since I was a small child. I worked 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. jobs and often wasn’t productive until early to mid-afternoon. The last company I worked for allowed us flex time of two hours, so I could come in at 10 a.m., but because most people were day people, most meetings were scheduled for 8 or 9. In retirement, I am an artist at long last, and I work the night-owl shift when I can, but now, doctors appointments have become more common, and you know when doctors offer appointments. Sigh!

From: Wes Giesbrecht — Jul 24, 2012
  Sleeping on the job by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia  

“Semaphore shade”
acrylic painting
by Mike Barr

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. There are 5 comments for Sleeping on the job by Mike Barr
From: Jim Oberst — Jul 24, 2012

Mike, an unusual, terrific painting. Nice!

From: Anonymous — Jul 24, 2012
From: Maxine Price — Jul 24, 2012

Very nice painting!

From: Linda G. — Jul 24, 2012

A painting like this stands out dramatically — a treat for the eyes. Thank you! (from one owl to the other)

From: P. Y. Duthie — Jul 24, 2012
  Just tired, not crazy by Dorothy Gardiner, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA  

“Aripeka Fish House”
pastel painting
by Dorothy Gardiner

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.       Marathon wakefulness by Karla Pearce Gallery, Kamloops, BC, Canada  

original painting by
Karla Pearce Gallery

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.   There is 1 comment for Marathon wakefulness by Karla Pearce Gallery
From: Anonymous — Jul 24, 2012

I had a biology instructor who ridiculed his students for wasting time sleeping. So I followed his advice for several years and ended up with serious health and memory problems. My immune system stopped functioning properly and when I was 20 a doctor said that I looked like I was 80. I had a hard time concentrating on my driving and almost fell asleep behind the wheel. I fell off my bicycle when I fell asleep and hit gravel. I was not alert when I was driving. I was diagnosed with chronic sleep deprivation. A psychiatrist who had worked in a sleep lab for 10 years helped me to recover and to live a sensible life. Exercise (or at least stretch)daily and eat properly, spend time with friends, go to bed at roughly the same time each night, follow a boring bedtime routine, sleep in a dark and quiet place, and get up when you wake up. No lying around in bed in the morning. It worked for me.

  Sleep/work studio by Peter Fox, BC, Canada  

View from Peter Fox’s bed

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. There are 2 comments for Sleep/work studio by Peter Fox
From: Cathy Pascoe — Jul 24, 2012

You have beautiful picture windows. I work in coloured pencil too.

From: Anonymous — Jul 24, 2012

I do that too,study my paintings from a relaxed state many times reclined on my bed with the painting against the wall. When I come to from a mediative state where fear,ego is minimal it’s much easier for me to look at it with fresh eyes at what is really there; good or not so good and then make adjustments if needed.

  Memory and sleep by Barbara Youtz, New Harbor, ME, USA  

“Basket With Flowers”
watercolour painting
by Barbara Youtz

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. There is 1 comment for Memory and sleep by Barbara Youtz
From: Darla — Jul 24, 2012

I’ve been constantly tired and distracted from sleep apnea, and I tried a sleep supplement containing l-tryptophan, the stuff in turkey and milk that makes you sleepy. It seemed to help me wake up feeling rested. I didn’t get more sleep, but I got more rest.

  The afternoon nap by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany  

“Many moons ago”
original painting
by Faith Puleston

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! There are 2 comments for The afternoon nap by Faith Puleston
From: Anonymous — Jul 24, 2012

Is there some scientific data supporting this statement? “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.”

From: Faith — Jul 25, 2012

I did read that more than 7 hours sleep at a stretch can cause the body to start poisoning itself, the reason being that the detoxification process is then reversed, but a prolonged search has not found me the link! However, if you google sleep and toxin you will find out also sorts of stuff to keep you awake at night plus a few patented widgets to aid detoxification! Not reading all that stuff may be a cure for insomnia. Or try Pooh Bear!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for In praise of sleep

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jul 20, 2012

I wonder if the seven hours has to be uninterrupted, or in total, with the necessary interruptions that old age decrees!

From: Suzette Fram — Jul 20, 2012

…….Good work and a satisfying, simple lifestyle induce efficient sleep……. Look at that. The answer is so simple. All these years, I didn’t know what it takes to sleep well at night. ;)

From: Anonymous — Jul 20, 2012

I am in the hands of sleep therapists and I asked the sleep technician while at my annual Sleep Lab test, what might be going on in my brain. “What I have is not exactly like Jet Lag but worse!” he said, “My vision (eyesight) closes in, my brain has closed down, physically I am on auto pilot and functioning dangerously, I am not alert to anything or aware of very much…..and not in the driver’s seat! Without REM sleep you are dead,” he said. Sleep deprivation is a silent killer. Deprive someone of REM sleep (latter part of your hours in deep sleep) and you effectively kill him!”

From: Annette Waterbeek — Jul 20, 2012

Oh yes…and the body clock, 5 am or 5:30 am eyes wide awake. When it’s not the creative job I want to say nooooo….stay where you are snug as a bug in a rug. When it is my time, get out paint, gather reference I’m up like a shot : ) Sleep- it’s under rated, well maybe not. My kids still look at me crossed eyed when I say HAPPY NAPPY. They are 23 and 25 now.

From: Maureen Brouillette — Jul 20, 2012

I have always had a problem with sleep. I don’t need that much. But I have a problem getting six or seven hours. I am afraid I’ll miss something:)

From: Jim Lorriman — Jul 20, 2012

There is no doubt that a good regulated sleep improves production and creativity – that and a sign on my computer keyboard that says, “No Computer Until Shop Work Completed”!

From: Susan Verda — Jul 20, 2012
From: anonymous — Jul 20, 2012

In a normal sleep pattern REM occurs roughly every 90 minutes and lasts roughly 20 minutes. This repeats all night. The only way you know if you are in REM is by a sleep study. REM is an important middle phase of sleep.

From: John Burk — Jul 20, 2012

At the moment, I think I am overdoing it. But then, I’m getting ready for a solo show.

From: Lynda Pogue — Jul 20, 2012

The only thing about this discussion is that there are people (like me) who ARE hoot owls and whose body clock just starts to wind up at night….. that’s when I usually paint……. thank God for the OttLite lights!

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jul 21, 2012

Given that some of the most ingenious and famous artists were extremely neurotic or worse, I think that your letter is missing a bit of clarification. You are not describing that kind of an artist, or maybe not even one that will ever be noticed by the art world. You are describing a healthy, happy and productive individual with the objective of living long and bringing much happiness to himself and those who know him. This epiphany I had years ago realizing this was a choice to be made.

From: Karin Snoots — Jul 21, 2012

I am just coming off of a “marathon painting experience”. Sometimes you gotta do what’s necessary though to keep the ball rolling. My new style of work has been getting attention recently and thing are moving – wahoo! Even though I also have a commitment for a two person exhibit in September at another gallery, it was important to get this done too. But today I’m definitely feeling the effects of your “Hoot Owl” appearance.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jul 23, 2012

Problem! Something weird has happened to the last few letters. When I read them online, the font has changed to what I think might be Times New Roman. Not a favourite font of mine at the best of times, but this is so small! Yet the comments are still in a nice large clear font. Possibly Verdana? Is this a new thing on your site, Robert? I really don’t like it; it’s hard on the eyes.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jul 23, 2012

Oops. Forgot to say that when I click on old letters they’re also in this new font.

From: Jen — Jul 23, 2012

Do you have a link or name connected to the RLZ sytem? I’d like to know more about it but struck out using google.

From: Comments moderator — Jul 23, 2012
From: Bryce North — Jul 23, 2012
From: Faith — Jul 23, 2012
From: Marj Early — Jul 24, 2012

“Creative Delay”, I love it, thank you, Robert, for this wonderful letter about letting the painting tell you where to go next. I have three watercolors that have not been talking to me yet. I have a request: in the future, sometime, would you please write a letter about creating “mood”. Thanks for all your efforts.

From: Bill W. — Jul 25, 2012

I would apply some of these ideas, only right now I am too sleepy.

     Featured Workshop: Virginia Unseld 072412_robert-genn Virginia Unseld workshops Held in Taos, New Mexico, USA   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.      woa

Roses for you

oil painting, 12 x 24 inches by Pat Deputat, AB, Canada

  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.”    

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