Sleep makes all the difference in the world, particularly to an artist. Throughout the day, the brain is bombarded with sensory information, buffeted from one experience to another. The conscious mind is hard to derail from its tracks through the HERE and NOW.
But when we sleep, the mind does not just cut off. We dream, yes, but the unconscious brain is also processing information: “It’s not just consolidating memories, it’s organizing them and picking out the most salient information.”2
Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings worked with Italian information designer Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat to create this beautiful infographic/print depicting the correlation between sleep habits and literary productivity. They processed all kinds of data (e.g. biographies, interviews, journals, letters, etc.) and found thirty-seven writers for whom wake-up times were available.
So how did they measure this “literary productivity”? Popova writes that they developed a set of quantifiable criteria: the number of published works and major awards received. “Given that both the duration and the era of an author’s life affect literary output — longer lives offer more time to write, and some authors lived before the major awards were established — those variables were also indicated for context.”1
The most important caveat of all, of course, is that there are countless factors that shape a writer’s creative output, of which sleep is only one — so this isn’t meant to indicate any direction of causation, only to highlight some interesting correlations: for instance, the fact that (with the exception of outliers who are both highly prolific and award-winning, such as like Bradbury and King) late risers seem to produce more works but win fewer awards than early birds.1
Lastly, Popova enlisted Wendy MacNaughton to contribute an illustrated portrait for each of the authors. And VOILA:
1. Popova, Maria. “Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized.” Brain Pickings, 16 Dec. 2013. Web, 19 Dec. 2013.
2. Association for Psychological Science. “Sleep makes your memories stronger, and helps with creativity.” ScienceDaily, 17 Dec. 2010. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.