Insomnia and its Effect on Art and Creativity

June 21, 2010

Insomnia and its Effect on Art and Creativity

A Debilitating Affliction or a Priceless Gift?

Feb 28th 2010 by Robert Lester
Many sufferers of insomnia, especially those with artistic tendencies, credit the inability to sleep as one of the main sources of their creativity.

We have all been there at some point in our lives. After a busy day of working, playing, travelling or whatever else we choose to do, absorbing all the words, sounds, visions, tastes and smells that the day brought, it is no surprise that we require a good night’s sleep to recover and refresh.

A Good Night’s Sleep

But when that sleep is not forthcoming, one has to find alternative methods of filtering out all the above stimuli, something that a good night’s sleep would usually do.

As Griff Niblack once said, “If a man had as many ideas during the day as he does when he has insomnia, he’d make a fortune.” (

Learning to embrace insomnia is the only way to ever be able to control it. Worrying about not getting to sleep exacerbates the problem; worrying simply makes it even more difficult to drop off.

Counting Sheep

Having counted a whole flock of sheep, drunk no end of hot milky drinks and even after attempting deep-breathing techniques, we roll are heads from one side of the pillow to the other.

The ability to sleep is usually not even present in our conscious thought; it is something that is automatic. But in this time of desperation, it is far from automatic.

As we sink further into the ugly abyss of insomnia, there comes a time when we decide to throw the towel in and get out of bed.

At this point the brain craves stimulation and we must feed it. Some choose to watch television, read a book or even do the ironing. But for some this is when creativity takes hold and they must vent this in an artistic manner; whether this is by writing, painting, drawing or playing music.

Writers, Artists and Politicians

Alexandre Dumas, the famous French historical novelist, suffered with terrible insomnia. After being advised to simply get out of bed when struggling to sleep, he went on to use his sleep deprived state to write many of his works. It is widely considered that “He produced enough words to fill 1,200 volumes and claimed to have fathered 500 children.” (

Vincent Van Gogh believed that his insomnia was his very own problem and that only he could help to make it bearable. He resorted to dabbing some camphor oil on his pillow and mattress every night. This did in fact help the artist to have a good night’s sleep, but tragically this oil was believed to have slowly poisoned him up until his eventual death in 1890.

The most famous insomniac of recent years is Winston Churchill. He blamed his nocturnal wakefullness on the bed in which he lay; he had twin beds and would switch between the two if one failed to advocate sleep. Despite the terrible torture this lack of sleep must have inflicted on the great politician, he used these hours in the depths of the night to think and plan.

Social Pressures

With the constant reminder that we must get seven hours sleep a night and with the necessity to function at work the next day, it is of no surprise that we suffer with such anxiety when we can’t sleep. But as the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette so accurately said, “In its early stages, insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge.” (quotegarden)

The only way to cope with insomnia is to embrace it because eventually sleep will take it off your weary mind and nothing that is thought of, written or drawn during those dark hours will ever be wasted.


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