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Psychologist Jessica Payne Studies Sleep and Creativity

Research from University of Notre Dame Assistant Psychology Professor Jessica Payne shows that too little sleep causes more than crankiness and tantrums in children: it also results in the inability to process new ideas and be creative.

“If children are deprived of adequate sleep, their brains are not as able to make the kinds of connections necessary for learning new ideas,” says Payne, whose research focuses on sleep, memory, and creativity.

“Sleeping allows you to take what you’ve learned, especially new things you’ve learned, and recombine those bits and pieces of information into novel ways that allow you to have creative insights, make inferences, and extrapolate across large amounts of information and extract the gist," says Payne.

“Sleep is a protected time, too. Instead of taking in information, it’s a time to process it,” Payne says.

Back to school for most children means readjusting their summer sleep schedules to ensure adequate sleep for optimal learning in the classroom. But staying up late to watch television isn’t the only obstacle to a restful night. The computer shares much of the blame.

“Not only are children stimulated by the content of computer games, but there’s also the issue of light,” Payne explains. “There’s evidence that even low levels of light from a computer can change your circadian rhythm.”

How much sleep is enough? Though every child is different, in general, it’s recommended that young children (1 to 3 years) should sleep 12 to 14 hours; children (3 to 5 years) should get 11 to 13 hours; while school-aged children (first through fifth grades) should be sleeping 10 to 11 hours.

A child’s lack of sleep not only will cause problems in the classroom; it also stunts creativity and may have grave consequences down the line, according to Payne.

“Sleep helps you pick out the pieces of information that are essential and put them together in new and interesting ways, which is the definition of creativity,” she says.

So why is the loss of creativity such a problem? A recent Newsweek cover story titled “The Creativity Crisis” delivered the bad news that there has been a decline in creativity in our society, beginning in the early 1990s.

“At a time when innovation and creativity are so important for our society, particularly in the business world, sleep is critical. We don’t give sleep the respect it deserves. It’s an essential process — just as much so as eating, breathing or exercising,” says Payne.

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