According to a Princeton National Health and Wellness Survey, thirty-seven percent of U.S. adults reported insomnia or sleep difficulties during a recent twelve-month period. Between 40% and 60% of people over the age of 60 suffer from insomnia. Two million children suffer from sleep disorders. More than ten million people in America use sleep aid medication to deal with their insomnia. 55% of all adults report having problems with insomnia in their lifetime. More than 70 million Americans suffer from various sleeping disorders and 60% of those 70 million report severe sleeping disorders.
What’s going on here? It turns out that this experimental brain of ours, because it doesn’t come with an off switch, continues to race on even when we don’t want it to—often at the cost of a good night’s sleep. It broods about what went on today and worries about what’s coming tomorrow. Without that off switch, it can’t easily shut itself off; and one manifestation of that difficulty is insomnia. This is true for everyone; but it is especially true for artists who are likely to be obsessing about art ideas, career challenges, survival issues, and a whole host of other brain-engaged matters.
Our brain broods, problem-solves, calculates, obsesses, stews, creates and races in our service. It will do that day or night: it is indifferent to the fact that we might need our sleep. It is odd that we have failed to recognize the extent to which our need to rely on the workings of our brain in order to survive naturally produces conditions like insomnia. Insomnia may prove a terrible affliction but it is not strange. It is exactly the sort of condition that you’d expect to afflict a creature with a brain that races.
There are organic, biological, and medical reasons for some cases of insomnia. But before you seek medication it probably makes sense to wonder if perhaps you are having trouble sleeping because your brain is racing—maybe in the service of your art ideas, maybe in the service of your art career, or maybe because you are brooding, stewing and worrying. If this turns out to be the case for you, ask yourself the question, “What might help quiet my racing brain?” I’ll have some suggestions for you in another post. For now, just consider this natural connection: that the same mind that produces creative ideas may also have trouble getting quiet when sleep is wanted.