Lacking creativity? Don’t reach for that espresso

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 9.03.52 AMBy Rebecca Childs | Staff writer

Picture an artist. Is he a beatnik bereted Frenchmen smoking outside a Paris café? (If not, does he sport thick wayfarers and a scarf?) Café. Coffee. Caffeine. The stereotypical artist drinks coffee, and he is deemed “creative.”

All problem solvers are creative. Scientists, mathematicians and code-breakers think creatively to solve problems that have no answer within the box, but they don’t get pictured in French cafés. Aspiring doctors might even be more “creative” than aspiring artists.

Perhaps, it is because the aspiring doctors know better: caffeine kills creativity. Deep sleep stimulates creative thinking as reported a study by the National Center for Biotechnology, but caffeine abuse has been shown to cause insomnia. It seems self-explanatory that with adequate sleep, problem-solving skills improve, but apparently it is not.

Indian Trail High School and Academy psychology teacher Barb David had students monitor their own sleep behavior and report their alertness throughout the day over a period.

“The problem is many students are not aware of the risks to their health or their learning.” — Barb David

“We have a ‘sleep crisis’ of sorts where when anything needs to be given up, sleep is the first to go,” she said.

Teenagers need at least nine hours of sleep nightly, as assured by the National Sleep Foundation,

but in a 60-student survey most Indian Trail students reported getting just seven or fewer hours. Coffee-drinkers get even less.

Maybe one in every 50 to 75 students deal with insomnia, said Doreen Perri, Indian Trail’s school nurse, although “[she] sees quite a few kids with insomnia for a multitude of reasons.”

“Part of these reasons sometimes has to do with caffeine intake; part of it is social media and poor habits. Sometimes, truly it is medical issues that lead to insomnia,” she said.

“The problem is many students are not aware of the risks to their health or their learning,” said David.

Caffeine could be charged with depriving students of sleep and only superficially energizing. However, when used in moderation, it is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in one aspect alone. Caffeine makes students focus.

However, focus might also kill creativity, according to a study by the University of California, Santa Barbara. It makes sense. Focus does not lead to daydreamer’s inspiration.

However, David explained that deep sleep is vital to the growth of the frontal lobes, imperative to attention and focus. No frontal cortex means no focus, so insomnia could lead to a very unfocused mind.

An unfocused mind lends to creativity, and the debates rages on.

With a new Medical Science academy, Indian Trail houses aspiring artists, doctors, sports stars, and others of all kinds. Problem solving is a skill need daily, but maybe more central to some professions than others.

Before ordering that triple-shot espresso, weigh the risks and possible rewards. Maybe, sleep on it.