For some reason, exceptional creativity seems to gravitate towards the minds of the sleepless and the alcohol-abusive. The question has always been that of the chicken and the egg: did the booze inspire the genius, or did the genius inspire the need for booze? Is sleep deprivation necessary to commit to a creative lifestyle, or is creativity just a byproduct of the tired mind?
According to a series of research experiments, when we’re tired, our focus and analytical skills suffer. Yet, when your mathematical brain goes to sleep, your creative mind is awoken. The reason behind this is simple: When you’re fully awake, your thoughts are streamlined and efficient, whereas the tired mind tends to daydream and embrace offbeat thoughts.
The two states of mind are useful in different situations. The rested mind thrives on problems of logic. Alternatively, the tired mind excels at thinking outside of the box.
Michigan State and Albion College Psychology Professors Rose Zacks and Mareike Wieth demonstrated this concept by assessing a control group’s problem-solving abilities at optimal and non-optimal times of the day.
According to Wieth, “Participants in the non-optimal condition had a higher insight problem solution rate than participants in the optimal time of day condition…. This [experiment] suggests that students designing their class schedules might perform best in classes such as art and creative writing during their non-optimal compared to optimal time of day.”
The issue with this, however, is that, to many people, tiredness is instinctually associated with relaxation and laziness, and many do not push through the heavy eyelids to reach the natural intoxication and reserve energy tank of overtiredness.
Fortunately (and tragically) for heavyweight imaginations like Hemingway and Beethoven, depressants were the short cut to creative space. Like fatigue, alcohol intoxication allows the mind to temporarily transcend the barriers of logic, structure, and focus, releasing a stream of shameless creativity.
To test this theory, Andrew Jarosz, Gregory Colflesh, and Jennifer Wiley of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois conducted a research study using 40 male participants, aged 21 to 30, who fit the criteria of a “social drinker.”
The group was split into two groups of 20. The participants completed various tasks in order to measure their professed problem-solving abilities, their actual problem-solving abilities, and their working memory capacity. One group completed the experimental tasks sober, while the other group did so while intoxicated.
The results of the experiment indicated that, although the intoxicated control group had a lower capacity for analysis, they were able to solve problems with a higher degree of insight and intuition.
Jarosz states that, “Intoxicated participants not only showed an improvement in RAT [remote associates test] accuracy compared to sober, [Working Memory Capacity]-matched participants, but they also solved problems more quickly.”
Historically, evidence of alcohol’s influence on creative minds is hard to argue with. Kerouac, Bukowski, Kippenberger, Hendrix—one can easily call to mind an endless number of geniuses who seemingly borrowed a fraction of their creative talent from local liquor stores.
That being said, it’s likely that these individuals were creative before they popped the bottle cap; the drink worked more like a lubricant than a catalyst. In other words, don’t expect to drink a fifth of whisky and suddenly stumble onto the world stage.
Because I feel mildly shameful for encouraging people to abuse their bodies and minds, I would like to take a moment to say that, while alcohol was a common thread in the lives of these high-profile individuals, it was similarly a factor in their tragic deaths.
Like most things, maintaining a balance will keep you from falling flat. Certainly no creative lifestyle can materialize without discipline.
Alcohol abuse and sleep deprivation in moderation, friends.