Insomnia and Creativity: Story of My Life
February 8, 2013


It comes and goes, and I never know when it’s coming or when it will go. It perpetuates itself; the longer you go without sleeping, the more you worry because you’re not sleeping. The anxiety keeps you awake, so you can’t get to sleep, because you’re worried about not sleeping … I do not exaggerate.

But I’m nothing if not an irrepressible optimist. So I believe that every cloud has a silver lining. (And, obviously, that some clichés are just truth that a lot of people recognize.)

About a week ago, after several nights of either sleeplessness or what could be considered a short nap in the middle of the night, I figured there had to be some productive way to use this time.

I was preparing for a presentation for a group I’ve been involved with for quite some time and really did not want to screw up. The topic was something I know well and am comfortable with. Earlier in the evening, I had been working on it and had really reached the point of burnout. I realized that the work I had done up to that point was crap.

So, I gave in to my fried brain and went to bed. But not to sleep. Once I laid down, my mind came alive. With ideas.

And suddenly, the presentation took shape. I sleep with my phone, so I took a few notes, but my mind just kicked into overdrive and I wrote the entire presentation in my head. And when I woke up, I still remembered it and it was so much better than what I had done that I deleted it all and started over.

Turned out to be one of the most successful presentations I’ve done, based on how much fun I had and the feedback I received.

So why do I do my best writing lying down?

I think it’s because my body is relaxed. Lying down, there’s no tension, no pressure. My mind is out of work mode. No one works lying down, right? Since I don’t think I’m working, I’m relaxed enough to free up my brain, so it just flows.

In the past few months, I’ve realized that I really do my best writing lying down. Which I thought was weird, and has definitely brought eye rolls from my husband, Jim, who still doesn’t believe I’m not just napping.

So when a study from researchers at the Australian National University found that participants solved anagrams 10 percent faster when lying down, I felt vindicated.

How do you do your best work? Sitting up, standing, lying down?

Here’s the study.

See, it’s not just me.


  1. Denise

    Not only have I written everything from a single statement or paragraph I’ve been struggling with in the daytime to an entire crazy but fun story, but I’ve also been quite productive cleaning out a closet, ironing, and reorganizing. I would prefer to get high quality sleep on a traditional time table, but, barring that, I’m with you. Use the time to do something productive and/or creative.

    • bethgsan

      I used to pull all nighters all the time. Most Easter weekends I was up all/most of the night before finishing the girls’ dresses. My oldest took AP art at HHS and I stayed up with her many times to finish a project. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree 🙂

      I think some of the best things I’ve done have been completed in the wee hours.


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