While the life of a musician often depends on nighttime activity, you can increase your musical creativity, stamina, and your general health by getting the sleep your body needs.
Let’s begin by recognizing the fact that the suggestions in this post might run counter to fundamental and even beloved aspects of your routine as a musician. Despite the scientific evidence and years of evolutionary proof supporting the value of the concepts we’re about to share, they still might sound radical. Still, the basic concept we’re advancing with this post is simple: nighttime is for slowing down, relaxing, being still and quiet, and, ultimately, for sleeping.
It sounds obvious, but as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this year, more than a third of adults regularly do not get the recommended seven to nine hours of nighttime sleep. With an ever-increasing list of electronic entertainment options available on our TVs, computers, smart phones, and video game consoles — not to mention the easy availability of artificial light illuminating our homes — it’s easy to understand why people in modern society are getting to sleep later and later.
And that’s just the general public. For musicians, of course, there are many more reasons why it’s so difficult to surrender your nights to quiet, stillness, and sleep. Late-night recording sessions, nighttime gigs… for musicians, the late-night hours are often the busiest and most productive. But that productivity can come at a steep price – including a decrease in your musical creativity.
Three reasons you will benefit from a new nighttime routine
Why is sleep so important? Why is it so vital that we slow things down in the evening, darken our environments, relax, and settle in for a good seven or eight hours of sleep every night?
1. Nighttime sleep is a necessity for health and survival
Sleep gives your body the opportunity to repair, heal and strengthen itself. It’s the time when your central nervous system is able to place your short-term memories into long-term storage. It’s the time when your tissues repair and strengthen themselves, and your muscles grow (assuming you’ve been exercising). And it’s the time when important health-supporting hormones are released into your body.
Which is why, as WebMD explains, lack of sleep, which deprives your body and mind of this mission-critical time each night, is associated with many dangerous diseases — including diabetes, heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
Sure, as a dedicated musician, you’ve probably found that you can muscle through a full 24-hour cycle to get in an all-night rehearsal with your band or survive a marathon recording session that takes you until 5:00 am. But these late-night hours of work — in loud, artificially-lit environments — can do long-term harm to your body and mind.
2. Circadian rhythm
Another reason to dial down your light, noise and activity levels as day gives way to nighttime is that our ancestors evolved over the last two million years to develop a sophisticated circadian rhythm that signals to our bodies the times for sleeping and waking that will keep us functioning at our best.
So even though we modern humans use artificial light and a host of other tools to stay up later — tricking our physiological clock into thinking it’s still daytime — in the long run, we pay a price for this behavior in our health and vitality.
One of the most dangerous effects of not following your natural circadian rhythm, and winding down your daily activities in the evening, is that failing to do this will disrupt your body’s production of melatonin — the sleep hormone, which is a key contributor to your immune system and other vital systems in your body.
As author and medical doctor Joseph Mercola explains, normal, nightly production of melatonin in the body has been linked not only with boosting your immune system but also combating inflammation and even slowing the aging of your brain. As Dr. Mercola explains, our ancestors evolved over millions of years to develop a circadian rhythm that told them to sleep with the darkness and awake with sunrise. After all, these pre-modern humans didn’t have recessed lighting. They didn’t have much choice after dark but to sleep — nighttime sure wasn’t a smart time for hunting.
Of course, our ancestors did have the glow of a fire to light their nights, but light in the yellow, orange, and red wavelengths didn’t interrupt their production of melatonin, at least not to the degree that sunlight or the sky — white and blue light — turned off their melatonin engines.
That’s still the case today. So if we watch TV (blue light) in the middle of the night, or flip on the bathroom light (white light) at 2:00 am, our brain is fooled into thinking it’s daytime — and that stops our melatonin production. And unfortunately, the melatonin spigot doesn’t just flip back on after we turn off the lights.
So, melatonin is an all-important hormone that our body needs for survival, which it produces only when our brain interprets it to be nighttime. And our brain cannot interpret it as nighttime if it’s exposed to blue or white light. So… what colors are those recessed lights in your studio?
3. Humans need quiet for creativity and inspiration
A Washington Post article titled “A Stanford psychologist explains why spacing out and goofing off is so good for you” cites a research study that found a link between silence and our ability to access our innate creativity. In fact, musical creativity was specifically cited as part of the study’s focus, which is perhaps why we have the famous statement — sometimes attributed to Mozart or Claude Debussy — that music is the silence between the notes.
All of this is to say you can find new levels of creativity and inspiration when you allow your environment to go quiet and still — things that should naturally be a part of your nighttime routine anyway.
Think of it however you want. Quiet time at the end of the day is when your brain finally has the chance to process all of the raw material it’s taken in, and find ways to creatively express it all. Or, if you prefer, your muse can’t scream loud enough for you to hear the brilliant idea she wants to give you if you’re jamming full-blast in the studio.
Either way, the point is the same. To increase creativity, not to mention improve your health and longevity, build some quiet time into every night. Of course, we also know that suggesting a musician not work so late at night sounds crazy – that’s when the work gets done. But maybe you can pull back on some of the all-night sessions with your band and producers and choose to work those loud, artificially-lit activities into your daytime routine. Or perhaps you can make small changes in your late-night music routines — leaving the studio just a little earlier to get a bit more sleep, swapping out some of the white lights with yellow or orange bulbs, or just building in a little more silent time even when you’re in a recording session.
We’re talking about your health here, and your creativity. Your “circadian rhythm” is worth protecting!
This post originally appeared on the Direct Sound Blog. Reprinted with permission.
Robbie Hyman has been a freelance copywriter for more than a decade, writing for startups and multibillion-dollar businesses, including DirectSound. Reach him at robbiehyman.com. Direct Sound offers a full range of headphones made in the USA for musicians and home users, all built with their exclusive sound isolating design.
Sick for the gig? Here are tips to get through the show in one piece.
Tips for Surviving and Thriving on Tour
Yoga for musicians
Being healthy on the road
Burned out? Maybe it’s time to pause and refill the well.
Isolation headphones and your home recording