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Feeling Well Rested? Maybe you shouldn't be...

There are times in the day where it simply seems like we just can’t function properly. We all experience it far too often. For most adults, this is known as the post-lunch slow-down. For college students, this may be the dreaded 8:00AM lecture. Depending on your age, gender, and genetics, your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) significantly affects your analytical functioning [1]. You perform analytical tasks best at peak arousal in your circadian clock [1]. However, it is quite counterintuitive to have entire blocks of a 24-hour day that render us completely nonfunctioning. There must be some benefit to that cognitive haze.

In fact, during the periods we are not at peak arousal and are experiencing fatigue, we are better at divergent tasks, or tasks that require creativity, unusual associations, and insight [2]. When we are at optimal arousal and functioning, our brains can dive deep into our neural networks and work through highly analytical tasks. This involves heightened concentration. On the other hand, when we are slightly fatigued our brains are more willing to search through many different networks.




During optimal functioning time periods, college students typically go through a logical thought progression first questioning the moon cycle during those months and then holidays. Students who were asked this question when they were functioning at a lower arousal were more willing to consider unconventional avenues. They figured out that the answer had nothing to do with the months themselves, but within the months’ names [2].

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Being tired can make you more creative and ADORABLE! True story


There is a 10% performance difference between functioning at peak arousal and non-optimal times of the day when presented with tasks that require creative thinking [3][4].

Let’s put all of this in simpler terms. When you’re tired, your brain is unable to focus on a particular task while filtering out surrounding distractions. Your brain is also a lot less efficient at processing information or recalling concepts that you previously learned. Now, we know what you are thinking, “These don’t sound very beneficial.” However, these are actually both helpful when it comes to creative work. This type of work requires us to think outside of the box. This is where our focus, specifically the lackthereof, can be of benefit. Our lack of concentration can open the mind up to a broader range of information. This larger scope can facilitate us in uncovering new ideas, discovering unique ways of thinking, and making previously unseen connections. When taking on your next creative endeavor, it may be most beneficial to be slightly groggy.

However, it’s important to note that if an individual is too tired, they will not be able to perform any cognitive task with success, including creative ones. Additionally, if the task is familiar to the individual, the time of day does not cause a noticeable effect in performance or creativity. People who do not fall into one of the extremes, such as an exclusively “morning person” or “night person,” exist as well. These neutral individuals often have two smaller spikes of productivity toward the morning and evening.

With this information, we can rearrange our days to optimize our potential and be as effective at our tasks as possible. This may manifest itself in a variety of ways: students taking classes that require more creative skill in the morning, innovators brainstorming ideas at times where their creative juices are flowing, etc. There exists countless possibilities.  With some introspection and understanding of our own optimal times for creativity we can effect tremendous change in the richness of our productivity.


Not feeling Fatigued enough? Read some more of the Alchemist's articles that's chock-full of beautiful science! 



  1. May, C. P., & Hasher, L. (1998). Synchrony effects in inhibitory control thought and action Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 24, 363–379.
  2. Wieth, Mareike B., and Rose T. Zacks. "Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal." Thinking & Reasoning 17.4 (2011): 387-401.
  3. Yoon, C., May, C. P., & Hasher, L. (1999). Aging, circadian arousal patterns, and cognition. Cognition, aging, and self-reports, 117-143.

  4. West, R., Murphy, K. J., Armilio, M. L., Craik, F. I., & Stuss, D. T. (2002). Effects of time of day on age differences in working memory. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57(1), P3-P10.