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You are at Your Most Creative When You’re Tired

You know how you keep a notebook next to your bed because you have all these great ideas all the time whenever you’re trying to fall asleep, or when you wake up in the middle of the night because your cat doesn’t have to get up for work in the morning and wants to play? A new study suggests that, no, life isn’t trolling you and making you creative when you’re too tired to do anything about it but say you’ll remember it in the morning even though you know you’ll forget, but people are actually more creative when they’re tired.

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For the study, Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks recruited 428 undergrads and asked them to fill out a questionnaire that classified them as either night owls or morning larks (I’m so much a night owl, I’ve never even heard the term “morning lark”). The majority of the students who ended up classified as one or the other, 195 of them, ended up as a night owl, whereas only 28 identified as a morning lark. The remainder of the students were classified as neutral.

After the identifications, the students attempted to solve six problem-solving tasks, four minutes per problem, half of which were insight problems, while the other problems were analytic questions. Half of the students were tested bright and early in the morning, while the other students were tested in the late afternoon. The study found that the students were better at solving the insight problems during the timeframe that they were identified as being the most tired in. The night owls solved the insight problems better in the morning, whereas the morning larks solved the insight problems better at night. As for the analytic problems, the time of day didn’t affect the students’ ability to solve them.

Because there were so many night owls compared to the amount of morning larks, one may suggest that the results were skewed simply because of the large gap in size between the groups and that the creative advantage has to do with the morning itself. To test that, the team tested the students that identified as neutral, and found that this group wasn’t better at solving problems at morning or at night, thus making a case that performing at one’s least optimal time of the day actually provides a creative advantage.

So, next time you’ve hit writer’s block, science is telling you to deprive yourself of sleep and ruin the upcoming day by staying up way too late so you can get those creative juices flowing and finish your screenplay.

(Taylor & Francis Online via Research Digest)

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