I’ve been battling insomnia since I was about 14 years old. Wait, no. Scratch that. I’ve had insomnia since I was 14. I stopped battling it in my early twenties.
At some point, when I was juggling college and freelancing with a toddler on my hip, I tapped into the manic creativity that only sleepless nights can render. One night, when I was up so long that I realized I’d only get a couple of hours of sleep yet again, I decided to push through into the next busy day. The initial idea was that I’d tire myself out so much over 40 hours of deadlines and changing diapers that I’d crash the next day and finally get some rest.
It worked. Sort of. I discovered that I could get so much done – and so well – in these hyperactive states of exhaustion that I frequently began making myself stay up long enough to catch that manic high again. And I got a lot done. I got rid of a deadbeat first husband, built a business, raised one kid single-handedly, had another kid, adopted a third kid, met the man of my life, and travelled the world. True story.
What’s also true is that the countless all-nighters, along with other stress, were probably the reason behind the silent heart attack I had when I was 37. And I mostly learned my lesson. Though my better half rolls his eyes when I say it, I have learned to take better care of myself.
But I still do it. I’m doing it now. It’s 5.30 a.m. on a Monday morning and I’ve been up all night building and fixing websites, creating all forms of so-called digital content, in another state of manic creativity. So, when I was good and done with my creative high, I looked it up. And, holy shit, look at that – there’s an explanation.
Creative Insomnia is a thing
While sleep deprivation is a hindrance to creativity for many, recent studies suggest that there is such a thing as creative insomnia. For some of us, sleep deprivation provide small “benefits” and hypercreative periods. Now, I’m on the tail end of the insomnia-induced high, so bear with me as I try to explain this.
A 2018 study published in a peer reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), found: “At the neural level […] a pattern of functional brain connectivity related to high-creative thinking ability consisting of frontal and parietal regions within default, salience, and executive brain systems. […] The findings thus reveal a whole-brain network associated with high-creative ability comprised of cortical hubs within default, salience, and executive systems – intrinsic functional networks that tend to work in opposition – suggesting that highly creative people are characterized by the ability to simultaneously engage these large-scale brain networks.”
When your brain wants a three-way
Allow me to translate some of the scientific mumbo-jumbo here. And, yes, I had to look up a bunch of concepts to understand it. What else am I going to do at 5 in the morning?
Basically, there are three separate brain networks that we humans are able to “patch” into, for various purposes. These three distinct systems of our noggin don’t usually play well together. The default network, mentioned first above, is exactly what it sounds like – the brain’s go-to. It’s what we use when we’re not actively thinking about what we’re doing and it’s where our thoughts “wander off” to. It’s your task manager, working in the background, if you will.
The last neural network mentioned in the quote above is the executive brain system. The executive, go figure, is literally the one that tells you it’s time to put on some clothes and go to work. Or, less creatively put, it is “a fronto-parietal system that is crucial for actively maintaining and manipulating information in working memory, for rule-based problem solving and for decision making in the context of goal-directed behavior.”
And then there’s the third, the salience network, which, theoretically, acts as a toggle between the default and executive networks. It picks and chooses which external stimuli are worthy of your attention at any given time. This is the system in your brain that Marie Kondos the shit out of everything for you, all day. This sparks joy but oh, I forgot I even had that other thing, toss it.
Usually, these three stick to their roles and don’t collab much. For many of us, though, sleep deprivation makes these three networks work together to generate insane creative booms. While there are several studies out there supporting these new findings – especially as we discover that the brain doesn’t work exactly the way we thought it did up to this point – unfortunately, none of them have uncovered, as of yet, why or how this random connectivity happens.
I found this quick exploration of the brain somewhat comforting this early morning. Maybe I’m a little less of a freak than I thought. Either way, sleep deprived and at the grand conclusion of a three-way between my big neural networks, I thought that was interesting enough to share. I’m off to not get any sleep and do whatever the Marie Kondo in my head tells me to do.
Medical experts believe that silent heart attacks (SMI) account for over 50% of heart attacks. The signs are most often difficult to recognize and sometimes feel non-existent. The best way to make sure you don’t have one or haven’t had one is to lead a healthy lifestyle (so not like me) and see a cardiologist regularly. Symptoms, if any, may include chest or back pain, pressure in the chest or abdomen, pain in other places, difficulty breathing, nausea, flu-like symptoms, and other pretty random symptoms. Mine felt like I was “coming down with something” paired with a sort of pressure and pain that I identified as neck and back pain, between my shoulder blades.
Sleeplessness and manic states are frequently also signs of depression or other disorders. Sleep deprivation, in these cases, certainly doesn’t help. All of these are treatable. We all have our demons. It’s important that you bring your demons out to play with your friends’ demons, and regularly. Just make sure they play nice.